Train lovers filled the Palace Sunday evening for “Unstoppable,” the Denzel Washington movie about a runaway train.

Based – very, very loosely – on a true story (more about that later) the movie tells the story of how a runaway train threatened southern Pennsylvania; and how an about-to-be retired engineer Frank Barnes (Washington) and a rookie conductor, Will Colson (played by Chris Pine) saved the day.

The story

Will is 20-something and losing his wife; Frank is a single father of two teenagers who are paying their way through college by working at Hooters. On their first day of work together, the new colleagues narrowly escape a head-on collision with a runaway train. Risking their lives, they chase down this train, in revers and at over 70 miles per hour, trying desperately to save the city of Stanton, Pennsylvania. If they can’t stop the train before it reaches a big curve in Stanton, several carloads of highly explosive chemicals will derail and crash into large gasoline storage tanks, causing the worst rail disaster in Pennsylvania history.

Why you should go

“Unstoppable” is fun, at times clever and funny, and offers entertainment without violence or vulgarity. The only thing shot at is the train (seriously).

I am not much of an action movie fan – in my opinion they are all the same: Good guy chases bad guy. Bad guy (or bad machine) almost wins. Good guy pulls out an improbable victory. The end. Yawn.

But for an action movie, “Unstoppable” does do a good job of asking “What if?” What if there was a train loaded with highly toxic chemicals heading for a large city? How would we stop it? How would we get people out of its way?

What you should know before you go:

In the actual train runaway that inspired the movie, no trains were shot. No dramatic helicopter rescues featuring Afghanistan veterans were attempted, and nobody got hurt.

There are similarities, of course. The real-life train did get away pretty much like the movie shows. Ethan Suplee (Mallrats, My Name is Earl) did a fine job (again) of playing an incompetent. And the train was stopped by another train linking to it and applying its brakes, followed by a daring move – boarding the unmanned moving engine.

This all happened, however, at much lower speeds than necessary to make an entertaining movie. It also happened in Ohio. And while there is a New Stanton, Penn., there is no Stanton.

The movie also shows the families of Frank and Will watching it all on TV, OJ Simpson slow speed chase style, thanks to news helicopters flying over and beside (yes, beside) the speeding train. This, as you probably guessed, is fiction.

Click HERE to see a CNN news report of the actual event.

As I compare the movie with the true story, I remember what they say during the National Public Radio show “What D’Ya Know:” People who are sticklers for the truth should get their own show.

If, however, you see “Unstoppable” as a fictional account of what could have happened if another thing or two had gone wrong with that actual runaway train, you will find it enjoyable and even something to think about – and that is a feat that not enough action movies can perform.

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Comments (4)

It was disconcerting for them to refer to Southern PA in the same way one would object to saying "Eastern California". The name changes were similar and thus also disconcerting.
By: Larry on March 19th 1:47pm
I'm from pa and there actually is a stanton, pa. Look it up on maps. :)
By: B on March 20th 11:30pm
Actually I found a New Stanton, but not a Stanton; maybe Google let me down?
By: Dean Close on March 20th 11:49pm
Yes, there is a Stanton, PA!!
By: Mary on July 3rd 5:54pm

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