No magical super heroes here, just working class railroad guys who risk their lives to stop a runaway train carrying flammable, toxic fuel that's headed for a dangerous elevated track in a Pennsylvania town. The train is number 777, going 75 mph with no engineer. The train is sure to derail, and hundreds will be killed.
Director Tony Scott is known for action and disaster films that have lots of breathtaking special effects but often leave something to be desired in terms of character development and story. No so here. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine play an engineer and conductor respectively, Denzel being a 28 year railroad veteran and Pine being a new young guy with only four months of experience. They're both family men. We get to know them well. We care about them, and that's what fuels the suspense.
Trains are big, powerful and scary, and we get plenty of scenes of 777 barrelling through railroad crossings and crashing into all kinds of stuff (including a horse trailer. Thankfully, the horses got out in the nick of time). And Scott uses real trains, not fakey CGI. All very thrilling, but it's the characters and the story that keep us interested.
Washington has been in some films that weren't so great. But has he ever turned in a bad performance? Nope. He's one of the most reliable, dedicated actors of our time. He takes his work seriously. Chris Pine is equally convincing.
You can't possibly watch this film without remembering the classic 1986 film _Runaway Train_ written by the legendary director Akira Kurosawa. _Unstoppable_ has one scene at the end that pays tribute to that fim, when Washington is standing atop of a railroad car with both arms upraised in victory, exactly as Jon Voight did at the end of _Runaway Train_.
_Runaway Train_ had a message about an escaped convict doing the honorable thing. In this film, working class people do the honorable thing. The corporate railroad executives are portrayed as unconscionable jerks. They call a meeting as the potential disaster is going on, and the main topic is how much their stock will be devalued if there is a crash and "collateral damage."
This is one of the best films of 2010, not just because of the amazing scenes, but because it's about real everyday people saving lives, not for heroism or accolades, but because it's the right thing to do. Inspiring. And no big spoiler: The ending is triumphant.