Can you say with 100% certainty whose fault it is?

Unstoppable (2010)
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Chris Pine, Denzel Washington, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan and Rosario Dawson

Let me try and review the set up of Unstoppable for you.  You’ve got Chris Pine’s character, Will, sleeping on his brother’s couch.  His wife (or girlfriend?) won’t take his calls after she puts what must be their son on the morning bus to school.  So, despondent, Chris pours himself into his work clothes and reports for work at the rail yards of Stanton, PA.  He’s the proverbial “new guy”, you see, and he’s reporting for his first day of work as a conductor on the rail lines.  Already the veteran workers don’t like him because he’s young, handsome and shares the last name of one of the company’s VPs.  Of course, the company is on the shit list of all these old timers because it’s cutting corners by literally shaving all of them into early retirement to save a few bucks on the bottom line.  Corporations seem to make such great movie villains, don’t they?

I can just hear the producer’s discussion with Mr. Scott about the other main character.  “OK, we need a foil for this guy… let’s see… she can’t be too pretty.  Actually, I think a woman on the rail lines is out totally, right?  Women have no place on the rail lines!  HA HA!!  OK, I jest, um, how about… Russ Crowe?  Perfect!  Nope – he’s donning the green tights in Europe for Robin Hood…  Then, hmmm, Hugh Jackman?  Nah!  There’s no claws needed on a train, come on.  I have it!  Your long time collaborator – DENZEL!”  And so we have Mr. Washington cast as Chris Pine’s trainer.  He is the yin to Pine’s yang, the trainer to the trainee, the veteran railroader to the guy that just wants to do “something different” with his career…  It’s not a bad set up, I have to say.  But the thing that jump starts their action packed story is just a small bit of human error.  Some how, some way, a rather lazy and “portly” employee succeeds in bypassing all of the safety features of this huge locomotive and starts this behemoth up – unmanned, mind you – cruising by itself with power through the Pennsylvania countryside!  It is this lack of negligence that I’m referring to in my subject for this entry – whose fault is it exactly?  

Think of how unique it is to have a film with no human villain, no aliens, no inexplicable disaster heading our way in a matter of hours to crush us all!  It’s just an unmanned train topping speeds of 70mph, which will potentially murder thousands of civilians if it is to crash due to its toxic cargo.  The question you’re asking – and I’m not ruining anything here, this part is actually clear from the preview (see note 1) – is “how did this thing HAPPEN???”  Is it the employee’s fault?  Sure!  But isn’t it his supervisor’s fault too?  Isn’t it the company’s fault for treating these people so terribly and exploiting them in the first place?  How about the safety designers, aren’t they to blame?  I think all of these questions are part 1 of 2 of why Unstoppable is such a swell picture.  But part 2 of 2 of why this movie succeeds is its technically expert production: everything from the photography to the special effects, the sound design to the authentic sets convince you you’re watching this thing unfold as if you were at home watching CNN.  That level of detail is easy to take for granted!  Bottom line – your money will be well spent on this one at the Cineplex this weekend…

Note 1: the preview for Unstoppable does a pretty good job of giving the audience information as to exactly what they’re getting into – with the exception of one clever bit of editing that I think inadvertently “ups the ante”.  I’m still deciding if I felt cheated by this bit of media savvy, but I don’t want to elaborate for those of you who haven’t seen this picture yet.  I bring this up only because I’m fascinated by how some expectations can be raised in the viewing of a preview, only to have the audience member say as they leave the theater, “Hey!  What happened to that one scene?  It wasn’t even in the movie!”

Final Note: For comparison sake, it might be interesting to watch Scott’s 2009 summer action/adventure re-make, The Taking of Pelham 123.  First, I thought Unstoppable was immensely better and would like to discuss with whoever is game.  Second, Mr. Scott and Mr. Washington must really like rail vehicles, huh?

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