Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Runnin' off the Rails

Our Thanksgiving modus operandi around here, in recent years, has been to meet my parents at a local restaurant for dinner, after which they spirit away The Daughter for a couple of days of quality time while The Wife and I enjoy some quality time as well. Usually, then, after T-giving dinner, The Wife and I go to a movie. After seeing Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and The Men Who Stare At Goats on previous Thanksgivings past, we've decided that our post-enormous dinner movie is better an action film of some sort. (Well, OK, calling Goats an action movie is a bit of a stretch. But as much as we enjoy a good romantic comedy, we don't do rom-coms on T-giving.)

So this year's movie was Unstoppable.

And seriously – that movie is a friggin' blast.

It's about as slick an entertainment as you'll ever see. There's really nothing that happens in it that is a surprise in any way, and in fact, you can almost feel the cliche's falling into place, one by one by one. Unstoppable falls into the action movie subcategory of "Race against time toward an unavoidable disaster". There's a big long freight train in rural Pennsylvania that (a) is pulling a whole bunch of cars filled with stuff that will either explode hugely or poison half the state, and (b) has managed to get away from the freight yard workers. Oh, and it's not just gently rolling away, either: it's under full throttle, with no one at the controls.

Enter, at the other end of the line, another freight train. This one is driven by two guys: the grizzled old veteran of the rails whose career's end is being forced upon him (Denzel Washington), and the young railroader who is smart and well-trained but who has only been on the job a few months and has the misfortune of being related to someone higher up the coporate food chain (Chris Pine). They're just kind of ambling out onto their day, taking a train from point A to point B, when they learn that there's this much bigger train that's out of control and it's heading right for them.

So, already we have the old vet who knows everything because he's incredibly experienced, clashing with the young buck who doesn't want to feel stupid. We have the lady running the freight yard who proposes an obvious solution (derail the train in farm country), but she's overruled by the corporate bigwigs who are trying to manage the crisis from a conference room in a skyscraper in Pittsburgh. "Do you know how much money we'll lose if we derail that train!" comes the typical reply from the guy in the nice suit. And of course, option after option fails until the train is, predictably, nearing a big city that can't evacuate in time because it's too big and where the tracks make a kind of curve that no train whipping along at 70 mph could possibly negotiate. Oh, and that particular curve in the tracks is surrounded on all sides by enormous tanks of fuel and such. See what I mean? Every clich̩ in the book Рand I haven't even mentioned the train full of kids on a school trip.

What I liked most about the movie was the way it got the ball rolling very early on. There is almost no tedious set-up here; less than ten minutes in, the train is out of control and certain disaster is about to strike. What little bits of backstory and character history we get throughout the movie come in little bits, here and there; no long speeches. Unstoppable keeps its eye on the prize, and delivers. It's a terrifically fun flick. See it!


Kerry said...

I run the risk of stating the obvious, but you know a lot of this was filmed in Olean and Portville, right? A friend of ours ruined a take by wandering into her own back yard one afternoon. (She lives near the tracks.)

Kal said...

I totally agree with you on this one. You have seen this movie a hundred times before but it works here. You know what you are getting but it's better than you dare hope. Denzel is solid as you knew he would be. Chris Pine is likable and figures out not to be a dick early on so you cheer for him to succeed. The director is not trying to re-invent the wheel and just gives you a solid real life adventure that will play ad nauseum on cable TV once it gets there and I will catch it most everytime I assume. It's got that 'Hunt For Red October' vibe to it. The setting is fresh as are the visuals. A winner all round.

Roger Owen Green said...

My take, which cites you.