Tony Scott’s latest film is stimulating mainstream fare that may strike an unexpected chord with American audiences.
After last year’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, Scott has returned with another film involving a train starring Denzel Washington.
The setting this time is rural Pennsylvania and, inspired by true events, it deals with two railway engineers (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) who must stop a runaway train which is loaded with toxic chemicals.
The supporting characters include a plucky yardmaster co-ordinating the rescue (Rosario Dawson); a weasly corporate boss (Kevin Dunn); a visiting safety inspector (Kevin Corrigan); and a persistent railroad welder (Lew Temple).
Like much of Scott’s work, this is a nakedly commercial project executed with considerable technical skill, utilising his stylistic palette: multiple cameras, desaturated images, whip-pans, crash zooms and frenzied editing.
Whilst not as visually hyperactive as recent films like Man on Fire (2004) or Déjà vu (2006), it still retains the director’s trademark energy.
Perhaps the most welcome aspect is how quickly we are plunged into the drama, as the train is let loose before the opening credits have even finished.
What follows is essentially an extended chase, filled with the hallmarks of a traditional action film: set pieces, explanatory dialogue, characters gradually learning to respect one another and a grand finale which involves frequent cutaways to crowd cheering crowd in a bar.
In the wrong hands this could be deeply average and clichéd, but under Scott’s direction there is an invigorating professionalism to the whole film that elevates it above most studio fare.
The likeable lead and supporting performances help, whilst the script does a taut and efficient job of making them seem believable people coping with extraordinary events.
But it’s in the action sequences that the film really earns its money, as Ben Seresin’s camerawork and some dramatic sound design all expertly crank up the tension.
One thing Hollywood often gets wrong is the depiction of news TV coverage, but here the graphics and presentation are highly believable and form another perspective to the action as relatives and viewers tune in via television.
The setting of the film might well have been influenced by the tax incentives afforded by shooting in Pennsylvania, but it captures the wintry vibe of rural, working class America very well for what is ostensibly an action drama.
Given the current state of the U.S. economy and the devastation wrought on rust-belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, the film might have an unexpected resonance with mainstream audiences affected by the recession.
Throughout the film, the heroics and stoicism of Washington and Pine are contrasted with corporate types that care more about their company’s profits than their employees.
Clocking in at an agreeably lean 98 minutes, Fox might have a bigger hit on their hands than they initially thought.
The central concept easily sells itself and in an age of CGI fantasies and films pandering to nerds, Unstoppable might hit a nerve amongst audiences looking for traditional, expertly crafted drama involving real people.
Unstoppable opens in the US on Friday 12th November and in the UK on Friday 26th November