‘Unstoppable’ Is the Ultimate Rewatchable

by Aubrey McKay

Do you remember the cable movie? Not the made-for-cable ones, but the movie that would grow its popularity with consistent runs on networks like TBS, TNT, and USA. These were typically movies that ranged from just okay to really good that consumed your entire Saturday or Sunday. Movies like The Day After Tomorrow, The Sandlot, and Ocean’s Eleven (to name a few) would constantly appear and gain a second life with new audiences through cable. I have probably seen Maid in Manhattan 100 times on TBS. Harry Potter has become a Christmas franchise because of the 25 Days of Christmas on Freeform. Every genre has movies that make impactful cable runs because the cable run became an effective way to find a new audience.

Now, with streaming and binge-watching, the lazy weekend cable movie has been mostly abandoned. More and more people are cutting the cord, which makes discovering the rewatchability of bad movies like 2 Fast 2 Furious almost impossible. You may find the cable movie is still alive thanks to your parents (or grandparents, depending on your age) because they are also the demographic keeping the cable box alive. Generally, the joy of randomly watching Die Hard With A Vengeance on a Saturday afternoon is mostly dead. My extended trip down memory lane is because a movie that would undoubtedly be a cable movie hall of famer, turns ten this month. Unstoppable is the perfect cable movie, but instead of enjoying its monstrous second life, it now feels like an ode to an era of movies that are gone.

Cable Movie Hall of Fame

Do not misread my “cable movie hall of famer” stance; Unstoppable is a great movie! It is that greatness and its rewatchability that makes it such an effective cable movie. Apart from this random box I’m putting it in, Unstoppable is the type of movie we are all constantly looking for. It’s easy to watch, fun, short, very well made and acted. It’s a simple movie about a runaway train, and that’s literally it. That simplicity lends to it being so rewatchable. However, if you’ve missed this Tony Scott directed action movie for the first ten years of its life, then it’s also the movie you’re looking for. A hidden gem you missed but are sure to love. At this point, it feels underrated.

Let’s Talk About That Cast

There are three main characters in Unstoppable, and the rest of the cast briefly pops in to carry certain moments, then disappears. With the star power of Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, and Rosario Dawson, there isn’t much of a need for a robust supporting cast. However, the supporting cast here is quite good and nicely fills in the seams. We start with the most famous (and polarizing) of the supporting cast with T.J. Miller, alongside classic “that guy”, Ethan Suplee. I like both actors and they do a good job of getting things in motion (literally) by showcasing the massive incompetence necessary for an event like this to take place. It’s a nice piece of casting.

The role of the concerned wife played by Jessy Schram, who certainly sends you to IMDb every time you see her recognizable face. A few other familiar faces are Kevin Dunn and Kevin Corrigan, both of whom are really good actors and do a really good job in their roles here. The biggest of the supporting performances goes to Lee Temple as Ned. An actor I’m not familiar with but comes in throwing 100 in his few scenes.

Denzel Washington Gives My Favorite Performance

I love what Denzel does with his character, Frank. It’s a similar role he does in a few other great performances like Fences and The Taking of Pelham 123: he becomes an everyman. Denzel is one of the most famous people in the world, and in this role, he is a relatable, blue-collar train conductor. I’m not a blue-collar worker or a train conductor, but I feel a connection with Frank in the sense that I’m just working and surviving as best I can. It’s less charismatic than it is real, and that connection is vital to the film’s success. Denzel is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. His co-lead, Chris Pine, who is also great, is more internal, which leaves the entertainment to the set pieces and Denzel.

It’s really an underrated performance from him because he does a lot to elevate Unstoppable. He tells jokes, emotional stories, he’s even a bit of a jerk and runs on top of a speeding train.

The Underrated, Everyday Feel

What makes Unstoppable great and elevates it past being just a good action movie (in which there are many) is how real it feels. Many movies have tried to take an extraordinary real-life event and recreate it for the big screen, and most of them fall short in comparison. Typically, they fail to capture the everyday nature of the world and the people surrounding the event.

It is a tough task to convince an audience that Rosario Dawson works in the railroad industry as just an average worker, but this film does it. The way Tony Scott captures the internal politics and struggles of these workers comes off as genuine. Even Chris Pine’s story, as complicated as it may be, feels understandable. It’s this authenticity, the small details of Denzel being able to eyeball the length of the train, the fighting among coworkers, and the small-town feel of the whole film, that creates an emotional investment. That investment leads to raised tension, which is vital to the film because we already know what happens. Unstoppable works because the small things are done well, which allows the big things to land even better.

The Definition of Rewatchable

Pretty much every scene in Unstoppable is rewatchable. It’s one of the rare movies that will hook you regardless of where it is in its runtime. From Dewey falling down as the train gets loose (which is always funny) to the thrilling final sequence, Unstoppable is entertaining and engaging. The action is fast-paced and demanding throughout, but the brilliance of Tony Scott is how he injects the action and tension throughout. The Stanton curve scene is thrilling and offers a bit of a misdirect from the climax. Hooking onto the 777 is very tense and acts as a small action sequence before the big climactic sequences. Scott paces this film beautifully, giving just enough story to provide the action with the stakes and weight necessary. All while never losing the tension of the 777 running loose through these small towns.

Even for as much as I love the opening, because of what Scott is able to establish so quickly, my favorite scene is Galvin’s plan, which involves slowing the train down with two locomotives for a former Marine to descend from a helicopter and take control of the train. The thrilling action of the scene is jaw-dropping. On top of that, Scott builds out the tension outside of the 777, with Connie and Frank yelling at Galvin. I most love this scene for its tension. It’s nerve-wracking! Scott doesn’t relent until the scene is completely over and the 777 is still going strong. This is master filmmaking because it’s too early in the movie for the train to stop, but you believe it’s possible because it’s not a terrible plan. The helicopter, the other train in front of it, and the crosscutting between the nervous side characters, it’s a wonderful way to build and sustain tension.

I’ve Got Some Questions

Did the train just shift into gear on its own?

There is a lot of train talk about what is happening and why the train was moving. All that works, and I’m fine with it. But does its gear just fall into place? It sure looks like it does, on some Final Destination type stuff. Again, I don’t know anything about trains, but I don’t think that’s how it happens. I’m not really mad at this, because ultimately, I can suspend this small bit of disbelief to get where we need to go. But still, we got to point it out.

What good is a derailer, if it doesn’t derail trains?

The movie wants us to believe there is a 50/50 chance this derailer will work (Frank says this to Will). No one, other than Galvin, thinks this plan is going to work. Which forces me to ask the practical question that should have been asked before by people working at this company, why does the “derailer” not derail trains? This one may be going too fast, which seems like a poor flaw for a train derailer. It seems as if there is no real point to have it if it doesn’t work. Is this a lifeboat on the Titanic situation? Did no one think they would actually need it?

Are Darcy and Will still together?

Will does a pretty stupid thing. I mean, extreme is generous when describing his actions. Darcy is right to separate from him and ignore him. She is also quick to embrace him after he stops the train and saves everyone. Was this just emotion or did the fear of possibly losing him bring her to forgive him for his actions? That is how I interpret the ending, but I feel as though once the emotions of the situation die down, they’re left having to reconcile. That is a hard thing to forgive and forget. I’m not sure they would make it. Will is a jealous guy and becoming a town hero doesn’t put an end to that. I wish them the best, but Darcy might be better off moving on.

Tony Scott Was Great!

Choosing an MVP for Unstoppable is quite difficult because a lot of different elements play large roles in the film’s success (which is true of any good movie). Rosario Dawson is great and her performance does a lot for the film. Denzel is the obvious choice, as the star of the film. However, as good as both performances are, they aren’t the first thing that comes to my mind, Tony Scott is.

In his final film as a director, Scott puts on display everything that made him such a great director throughout his career. His way around an action sequence is stunning and his ability to create meaningful tension is brilliant. By clearly setting the stakes of this runaway train and then sitting in the moments when that train is destined for impact, put you on the edge of your seat. It’s a thrilling movie, that is exciting even though we know the outcome long before the ending. Tony Scott made easy-to-watch and fun movies. Unstoppable may not be his best (it’s in the conversation though), but it is certainly a perfect representation of why he was so great.

Does Unstoppable Hold Up?

Hell yeah! Unstoppable holds up better than most movies ten years old. I could watch Unstoppable again, right now, and feel everything I felt the first time watching it. In this way, the movie will hold up for much longer. There also isn’t much CGI (if any at all) and the practical effects are great, so it will continue to look good going forward. Unstoppable is just a great movie. It’s the type of great we all need right now — 2020 hasn’t given us one movie like this. Quick, easy to watch, thrilling with big action, while still maintaining an important intimacy. Unstoppable is also uncomplicated, which aids in its rewatchability. Simply put, it’s good and a good time every time.

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Kali Tuttle November 29, 2020 - 9:39 pm

I LOVE Unstoppable! I tend to forget about it until I see it in like the bargain bin at the store though lol

Nick Kush November 29, 2020 - 7:40 pm

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