If there’s one term that is practically bankrupt it’s the notifications at the beginning of a movie that it is “based upon a true story”. For decades this term has been used and abused many times. The general idea people get is that what they see on screen is how it really happened, but “based upon” is really a term used in most broad sense as possible. The Silence Of The Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho were all based upon one and the same person: Ed Gein. Who himself was the subject in two biopics, both very different from each other. Just goes to show you Hollywood likes to run wild when basing something on a real event. The runaway train movie Unstoppable is also based upon a true story, but in this case the train never had any chemicals on board, did not had to go through an elevated sharp turn with the inevitable result of it collapsing on oil/chemical storage tanks placed along side the tracks. In fact, in reality these don’t even exist.
So this no-so-based upon a real story is the latest Tony Scott movie starring Denzel Washington. Since their last collaboration, The Taking Of Pelham 123, Washington has promoted himself from working with subway trains to the real deal. Here he’s an aging engineer who has to work together with rookie conductor Chris Pine in what is one of those relationships that start off rocky. The older employees of the company are being fired in favor for young cheap labor. So there’s tension, and to add up to that both men have troubled home situations. Washington isn’t on best terms with his daughters who work at Hooters and Pine has some problems concerning the wife. These little background problems serve only to give the men some extra layer and having the relatives at home a reason to bury the hatchet when they see their dad/lover on national television risking his life to stop a train. Somehow just simply saving hundreds/thousands/millions of lives is never enough, there’s always a relationship saved which is at least as important.
Like a train in real life the movie takes some time to reach up to the situation where the train actually becomes the lethal runaway menace and once it’s there nothing is spared to be in jeopardy; a trailer with horses stuck on a railroad crossing, another train full of little children. Despite this train only being able to go one way the writers have come up with all sorts of situations that make the situation all the more menacing like the aforementioned sharp turn. What I found funny was when I proposed a solution to stop the train and they actually did that five minutes later, and it failed. It’s not that they used my solution, but the simple fact that this solution would have worked in any other movie, and it would have looked even simpler. Every movie seems to live in its own little universe.
The strong point of the movie is that the makers are that skilled that they can pull this off, because when you take away the cast and director not much is left. The only redeeming quality of the script are the jeopardizing situations the writers came up with. Everything else is screenwriting 101. The early tension between Washington and Pine which eventually turns into a successful collaboration. You know these two end up buddy-buddy at the end of the movie, as is the salvation of the obligatory home-problems. Nothing like stopping a runaway train and saving many lives to open the eyes of your former loved ones and make them realize what they are missing out on. There could be a TV-show hidden in here; Thomas the Tank Engine meets Dr. Phil.