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Laramie Movie Scope:

A high energy race to save a town and a train

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 13, 2010 -- This is a very well crafted adventure film about a heroic attempt by two railroad employees to stop a runaway train. The story is loosely based on a real 2001 runaway train incident in northeastern Ohio, which had an outcome similar to, but not nearly as dramatic as, the story in the film.

“Unstoppable” has all the earmarks of a disaster film, with the usual introduction of the characters and their personal problems. You have the railroad executive, Galvin (played by Kevin Dunn) who, like the Mayor of Amity, makes all the wrong decisions during the crisis, to the frustration of yard master Connie (Rosario Dawson of “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”). The heroic train engineer, Frank (Denzel Washington of “Training Day”) figures out what is going on and decides to take action on his own, disobeying Galvin's orders. Connie backs him up and helps him, at the risk of losing her job. Joining Frank on this wild and dangerous ride is a young conductor-in-training, Will (Chris Pine of “Star Trek”).

Frank and Will try to chase down the runaway train, hoping to hook onto it with their lone locomotive, and slow it down enough so that it can be boarded and stopped. If they fail, they will probably be killed when the train derails on a sharp curve in Stanton, Penn. This deadly curve is lined with huge fuel storage tanks and which lies in the path of the out-of-control train. It is a do or die situation for the two men. Both of them have families living in Stanton. They fear their families are in peril. When Galvin asks Frank why he is risking his life for the company, Frank says, “I'm not doing it for you.”

The action is amped up with a man dangling from a helicopter, trying to board the runaway train from above. Another locomotive hitches onto the train from the front and tries to slow it down. Police shoot at the train, trying to hit a switch on the locomotive that will stop it. Attempts are made to derail the train and pull it off onto a siding, but, you guessed it, it is unstoppable. Frank and Will are the only hope left to stop the train when all the other plans fail.

There are a lot of melodramatic elements in the story as well. Will is fighting a restraining order against him sought by his wife. Frank is trying to contact his daughter, who is not answering her phone because he forgot her birthday. Frank is also being forced into early retirement as a cost-saving measure by the railroad company. Connie is trying to save the day despite the stupid decisions of her boss, Galvin.

The runaway train is supposed to be traveling at speeds up to 80 miles per hour, but is clearly going much slower than that in some scenes. In one scene, the wheels of the train come up off the tracks on a sharp curve. That is hard to believe. It isn't quite as crazy as some things you see in the movies (like the bus jumping a big gap on a freeway ramp in “Speed”) but it seems a bit over the top. In an earlier scene, when the locomotive hooks onto the front of the runaway train, it should have been easy for a man to get from the back of that locomotive onto the front end of the locomotive of the runaway train. This solution should have been way simpler and less risky than trying to lower somebody down onto the train from a helicopter.

Despite all those minor problems, the movie works. It is a good popcorn movie with solid acting by all the main characters. I was especially pleased with Rosario Dawson's performance in a very meaty role. She usually doesn't get roles this important, and she makes the most of her opportunity. Here's hoping there are more of these kinds of opportunities for her in the future. This performance should also help Chris Pine's career. His loutish character, James T. Kirk, in “Star Trek” was off-putting. In “Unstoppable” he is much more likeable. Denzel Washington, of course, is an established star, and he performs as expected. Ethan Suplee of “Cold Mountain” plays the hapless railroad employee whose poor judgement and lack of foot speed causes the accident in the first place, is also very effective in this film. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)