Thriller runs off the rails

2010-11-15 00:00

Review: Unstoppable

DIRECTOR Tony Scott used to be the “Daddy Cool” of visual style. Top Gun (1986) and a favourite, True Romance (1993), exhibited bold and luscious cinematography, emotion-fuelled soundtracks and hip editing. In many ways “the look” created by Tony Scott epitomises the excesses of the eighties.

Later, Scott adapted with the times and shifted towards the stylised realism of the late nineties, trailblazing with his new de-saturated, high-contrast images tinted in ochre, greens and blues and his rapid, jarring editing.

You could say he had brought Eisenstein, the Russian master of the dialectical edit, back into vogue. Check out Man on Fire (2004) and let your eyeballs drool.

Curiously though, in his last two outings Scott has been beset by “reality” paralysis. Gone is the play with the colour palette and gone is the intricate plotting. The shift becomes most apparent in the third act of The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) where the resolution is wishy-washy. Using a deus ex machina is just a cop-out to emulate reality.

Another thing, there’s perhaps too much “chummery” with regular collaborator Denzel Washington. These days in Scott movies, he plays himself as an old and slightly grumpy uncle.

There’s no variation. And that goes for the whole cast of characters in Unstoppable, pinched from the house of cliché. Watching this flick is like eating breakfast without bacon — bland.

Unstoppable would have been better served by the documentary genre a la Seconds to Disaster. What we have here is a fairly mundane story of a runaway train that is force-fed into the hero’s journey formula and comes out delivering farcical and plainly exploitative dramatic beats. A trainload of children is set up, obviously to ratchet up tension, but then inexplicably disappears in the first act.

I was expecting some Silver Streak (1976) or perhaps Runaway Train(1985), but this train doesn’t move beyond 130 km/h. That’s positively pedestrian, even if its carrying some nasty chemicals. Instead, this has the feel of overblown American mass hysteria. This train has a massive police escort, multiple choppers and live TV coverage, just like O.J. Simpson.

Set in blue-collar America, the plot gives a nod to recessionary times. Washington’s character is being laid off. Telling the story of his daughters to rookie train conductor Chris Pine, Washington has a laugh, but it is a laugh so hollow it pulled me out of the movie. I love Scott but this is far from his best.

**

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