With The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Tony Scott and Denzel Washington collaborated for a thriller centred around a stationary subway train. The obvious progression for the pair was to set the train in motion next time around, and in Unstoppable a runaway freight train carrying a hazardous material is on the loose, and it’s up to Washington’s veteran railroad engineer and Chris Pine’s young hot shot to make the unstoppable, well, stoppable. Inspired by true events, Unstoppable sees Scott firing on all cylinders and delivering the kind of adrenaline-fuelled action he cooked up previously in the likes of Top Gun and Days of Thunder. This is pure popcorn entertainment.
Dear me, but director Tony Scott is a wily fox. Scott likes to lure audiences into his cinematic webs of intrigue with seemingly literal titles that promise action galore. He then proceeds to deliver both action galore and a cunning twist on what the title of the film may have led the unwary to anticipate. Man On Fire, for example, turned out to focus not so much on the physical man a-flame so many of us pictured on entering the multiplex. Rather, it functioned as a description of Denzel Washington's mental landscape, a mental landscape that led to many action set-pieces arguably more impressive than the simple spectacle of a man a-flame would have been.
The dedicated Tony Scott enthusiast may care to tease out similarly artful double meanings in seminal titles Days Of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout, Crimson Tide, The Fan, Enemy Of The State and even Top Gun. Consider Top Gun. What could be more exciting than a firearm? Perhaps only a firearm mounted in a superior position to other firearms. It may appear hard to argue with that, but to watch Top Gun is to have your parameters regarding the nature of excitement radically shifted.
Now, with Unstoppable, Scott takes us on a similar journey. The premise, and first-look meaning of the title, is that an unmanned out-of-control train full of explosives travelling at fantastic speeds towards a populated area will prove impossible to arrest. It would ruin the verbal gymnastics of such a title to say much more, but keep in mind simply that Denzel Washington's character, a long-serving railway engineer nearing retirement, is viewed by his bosses as somebody whose career is drawing to a close, somebody whose career is near its end, somebody whose career might accurately if not elegantly be described as stoppable and you grasp the root of the matter.
Tony Scott, we salute you: Unstoppable is wholly worthy of entry into the upper echelons of the Scott canon.
In a nutshell: Like most of the better Tony Scott films, tremendous fun in a deeply silly way that makes no lasting impression whatsoever.
By Catherine Bray