Saturday, 4 December 2010



Tony Scott annoys me. Every film he makes is crammed with filtered wobblicam photography, slo-mo, crash zooms, tilts, tracks and pans, edited to an incoherent frenzy and accompanied by thudding music. If he made a documentary about a blind piano tuner in 1830s Vienna it would be filled with his beloved shaky, orange-hued camerawork, throbbing bass lines and subliminal cutting. It's like being grapped by the lapels and shaken for two hours while Scott yells "ARE YOU EXCITED YET?!?!?!?!" repeatedly in your face. And the answer is generally "No, actually, I'm faintly bored by it." This time it's not just Scott's camerabatics but the insertion of several "TV news reports" shot from helicopters and captioned all over and the end result is like trying to watch Sky News and the Action Movie Max channel at the same time by flipping between them every five seconds.

And so it is with Unstoppable - not so much inspired by true events as extrapolated from a minor incident into a full blown Thousands Will Die potential catastrophe. Due to a combination of dumb incompetence and poor maintenance, a freight train loaded with explosive chemicals slips its brakes and heads downhill towards towns, industrial gas storage tanks and a separate train full of children on a school trip! To derail it would be risky and expensive, so Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk) and regular Scott-star Denzel Washington both have to put aside their daytime soap troubles with work and family, and charge up behind the runaway on a small locomotive, attach it to the train, then slam the brakes on and slow it down before it hits a frankly rickety-looking curve and explodes.

It's not that the film has some kind of ADHD; it's that it assumes the audience has. If a shot lasts for four seconds Scott thinks the audience will get restless and start wondering whether they locked the front door or where they parked the car - or worse, feel the need to check their Twitter feed because nothing's happened on screen for the last four seconds. It's not just a film about a runaway train, it's a runaway film about a runaway train. And like most of his other films, the look and the sound is what counts and the only thing he can do is ramp everything up to maximum; never mind the popcorn, would you like paracetamol with that? Which I'd be fine with if it made the films any better, but unfortunately the reverse is closer to the truth. Admittedly, Deja Vu was quite fun. But for all the post-production pyrotechnics, Domino was atrocious and ludicrously overdone, his remake of The Taking Of Pelham 123 was not just a tiresome and sweary mess but an insult to a fine original, and Man On Fire was, for all the violence, just plain dull. And I may have a soft spot for The Last Boy Scout and True Romance, but those films came out about twenty years ago.

It's nowhere near the best movie about a runaway train, which would be Konchalovsky's marvellous Runaway Train. (It's not even up there with the last twenty minutes of Silver Streak.) But I enjoyed Unstoppable more than I expected, and it's a definite step up from the Pelham remake. Worth a look, but sit a fair way back.


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