Friday, March 18, 2011

Unstoppable (2010)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Little can be better for an actor's career than becoming a director's muse. What would the careers of Marlene Dietrich have been without Josef von Sternberg, Robert De Niro without Martin Scorsese, or Johnny Depp without Tim Burton. Denzel Washington, indisputably one of his generation's finest actors, has become the muse of director Tony Scott. Since they first worked together in Crimson Tide (1995), the two have worked together on four additional films. In fact, Washington has appeared in four of Scott's most recent five films, and perhaps would have appeared in all five if not for the unlikelihood of replacing Keira Knightley in Domino (2005). Though Crimson Tide is a great flick, the three collaborations that followed were all middling films that are unworthy of Washington's talent. I expected Unstoppable to follow in this dubious tradition, and though it is their best collaboration since Crimson Tide, it lacks anything particularly unique or noteworthy. Unstoppable is a mildly entertaining action film that does a few things right, but fails to rise above the rest of the action crop and is thus forgettable.

Unstoppable is a simple story, and the filmmakers deserve credit for not overcomplicating it. The plotting is tight, but the script faces two major shortcomings. The first is that the writers, to their credit, attempted to create emotional drama as well as physical drama by having the two men discuss the challenges they are currently facing in their lives, in order to raise the stakes when they put their lives at risk. The actors aren't given much to work with, however, as each is given a standard backstory that any young screenwriter would almost certainly use. The emotional development feels tacked on and not germane to the story. The far greater problem with the script comes from the very subject of the film: trains. Trains, by definition, must run on a predetermined route, and thus the audience knows that at any given time, only two things can happen: either the train continues to run on the track, or it derails and crashes almost immediately. Unstoppable has been compared to Speed for obvious reasons, but with Speed there were limitless possibilities as to what could happen to the bus. While the screenwriters do a credible job in creating scenarios to move the story along, there just isn't much suspense or anything to surprise the audience.

Though Washington has a penchant for doing far too many mediocre movies, unlike some of his peers in his generation who do the same (I'm looking at you Nicolas Cage and John Travolta), he never mails in the performance. While the film, like many others in his filmography, seems to be nothing more than a payday for Washington, he always seems to be doing his best to earn his payday, which can't be said for all actors. His legendary intensity is present throughout Unstoppable, and he does his best to flesh out a character that is flat and possesses an all too familiar backstory.

Chris Pine also turns in a solid performance. He holds his own against Washington's intensity, a task that has made countless actors wither away. Pine is developing into a creditable action star, and I'm hopeful for the future of his career.

The film's sole Oscar nomination came for Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Mark P. Stoeckinger). Like most films nominated throughout the years in the sound categories, the film is full of loud, explosive, crashing noises. I haven't yet learned how to judge a film for sound editing, but to my untrained ears Stoeckinger did solid work in creating what must have been a sonically difficult film to edit. The film lost to Inception (Richard King), which is no surprise since a far greater number of Academy members almost certainly saw Inception than saw Unstoppable.

The quick pacing and solid performances by the lead actors made the film watchable, though I have a hunch that within a few weeks I will have completely forgotten that I ever watched Unstoppable.

Remaining: 3163 films, 880 Oscars, 5446 nominations

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