Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Hollywood Movies of 2010 #3: Unstoppable

The Story: An old-hand railroad engineer (Denzel Washington) has to train in a new kid (Chris Pine), and hide his resentment that the company is forcing the older, better-paid guys out in favor of cheaper, inexperienced, by-the-book new guys. During their training session, a series of freak accidents results in an unmanned train plowing towards them at full stream. Once they get out of the way, they realize that they have a risky chance to chase after it and stop it themselves before it derails in the middle of a large city --if they can learn to trust each other along the way.

Why This One: I saw the trailer and rolled my eyes, but I turned to Geoff and said, “you know, forty years ago, that story could have been the basis for a good movie.” Then it came out and unexpectedly got great reviews so I tentatively decided to give it a shot. It blew me away! Many years previous, Denzel and director Tony Scott had made one of my favorite all-time thrillers, Crimson Tide, but more recently they had turned in a long series or turds, the most atrocious of which was their spastic remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. This was another train movie which mainly consisted of Denzel talking on the radio, so there was no reason to expect this one to be any better, but I guess that everybody just decided to care this time. And Chris Pine shows that the charisma he brought to Star Trek was no fluke. This guy could turn out to be the real deal.

Rules It Drove Home:
  1. Make It Wrong: Like yesterday’s movie, this one was also unashamed to hammer its theme home. Again and again, in situations of escalating importance, Denzel’s hands-on experience proves to be superior to the newbie’s classroom knowledge, maximizing tension between them, honing the characters into sharp points, and demonstrating, rather than merely stating, the theme. By the time the out-of-control train is finally barreling towards them, nobody needs to point out that it’s a metaphor for the economic disaster barreling down on all of us due to America’s devaluation of hands-on work, we feel it.
  2. Know What They Do All Day: Do you have any idea what the work is like in a modern railyard? Neither do I. But these writers sure convince us that they know it inside and out. Half of the dialogue is workplace-jargon that’s totally meaningless to us out in the audience, but because we trust that it all feels very real, then we have no trouble connecting to how much they care about what’s going on.
  3. SPOILER: This movie has an absolutely wonderful Wrong Person to Pick On Moment: Denzel’s boss doesn’t trust him to pull off this risky maneuver and forbids him to try it. Denzel, knowing the boss’s alternate plan won’t work, says that he’s going to do it anyway. The boss threatens to fire him if he tries it. Denzel then reveals the secret that he’s been keeping from us and Pine for the whole movie. “You’re too late, boss. I got my 90-day notice 72 days ago.” That shuts everybody up quick. What a wonderfully ironic source of power for him to tap into!

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