Movies like this are much the same, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We enjoy watching predictable things, as long as they’re not iresome or annoying; it’s the whole reason why we buy DVDs or watch sitcoms after all. As long as a film like this hits all its necessary marks – it presents us with a somewhat realistic but intriguing scenario, the characters are likeable, and the plot isn’t too preposterious or overwrought – it’s going to work. It may not be a work of art, but it’s a work that works.
“Unstoppable” is about a runaway train. There are good enough reasons why the train gets away, and why derailing it doesn’t work. This is the kind of movie, like “Speed” and probably the “Saw” films (which I haven’t seen,) where the problem is evident at the beginning, and you spend two hours trying to figure out the solution alongside the characters. They way movies like this go wrong is by offering stupid, overly complicated solutions and ignoring the obvious; “Unstoppable” makes this mistake once, but mostly stays away from it.
When everything is by the books, and utterly sufficient as it is here, you start to notice the little details. Actually I think probably only critics notice the details, but I’m writing a review and you’re reading it, so there you go. The details I noticed involved the setting; we’re in southern Pennsylvania, and without overly stating it, “Unstoppable” pays attention to its setting. The characters are people who live in Carhardts, drive pickup trucks that can go 100 mph, and root for a team called the Steelers. The casting and costuming here is quite good; good enough that I noticed the one character who seemed like she was from LA instead of Pennsylvania, and I wondered what she was doing running a train company. The exception proves the rule. “Unstoppable” feels like it happens in a real place. There are quite a few action movies of this type that can’t necessarily say that.