Making the Grades
Trains and brains may rhyme, but both are in short supply in this movie about a locomotive that takes off without a driver. Dewey (Ethan Suplee) is the dolt who insists he doesn’t need to connect the air brakes just moments before he hops out of a moving cab to throw a switch. Not able to run any faster than he can think, his engine and its half-mile of cars are soon heading down the track without him. Even more surprising, his coworkers just laugh at the situation. When Dewey eventually finds the yardmaster (Rosario Dawson), he admits his mistake like a schoolboy who has cheated on a test, leaving Connie to figure out how best to cope with what is now described as "a missile the size of the Chrysler building."
Meanwhile at the other end of the line, veteran engineer Frank (Denzel Washington) and his rookie conductor Will (Chris Pine) have just pulled out with their load. And guess what? They are headed straight for the runaway. About the only thing more you could add to this already tense situation is a school field trip, tanker cars of hazardous chemicals and a small city with a big curving railroad bridge that can only be navigated at 15 MPH. Yup… they are all part of this movie mix.
If you come into this film expecting only exciting pictures of a train on the lamb and a passel of railroad workers wondering how they will stop it, then you may not be disappointed. However, being a big rail fan myself, I was hoping for a little more to get stoked over in this great locomotive chase. Pardon the inevitable pun, but this truly is a one-track script. Character development is virtually non-existent, with the exception of Frank and Will taking a few sideline moments to discuss marriage woes.
Then there is the critical lack of intelligence that overshadows much of what is on screen. Early in the movie, after being informed there is a train barreling toward him, Frank asks the obvious question: "Where is it?" Connie replies they don’t know. Yet Fox News (which is promoted to the point of saturation in this film that features dozens of fake embedded reports) has a helicopter tracking the locomotive with a live video feed. Too bad the yardmaster didn’t look at the huge TV in her control room. Later, when Connie finally is watching the news, she sees one of the company heroes madly driving his truck beside the speeding engine in an attempt to make a daring rescue. Shrieking, she gives this poor sap a call, forcing him to answer his cell phone while trying to pull off the difficult maneuver.
Along with the many moments of peril, an accidental injury with some blood effects is depicted. We also learn that railroad employees can swear up a storm because we are treated to a boxcar load of moderate and mild profanities, terms of deity and a sexual expletive.
Loosely based on an actual event from 2001, Unstoppable is a fast-paced, frenetic film with many hand-held camera shots that often tries too hard to convince us that a million tons of steel running out of control is a serious matter. For parents of older teens who are willing to tolerate the language and ignore the plot holes, this train may barely make the grade.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Unstoppable.
This movie uses simulated live news reports as the backbone of the story. How do live newscasts shape events in the real world? Does instantaneous coverage benefit a situation like this?
For the details on the event in 2001 upon which this movie is based, check this page.