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Movie Tag Team: Denzel Washington and Tony Scott

Unstoppable marks the fifth collaboration between Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott, a team that has given us films that span the entire spectrum of quality. From inane to intense, we’ll take a look at the movies they’ve worked on together.

Crimson Tide - for my money, Scott’s and Washington’s first effort together is also their best. Washington plays a naval officer who is second in command to Gene Hackman’s character, both in charge of a submarine tasked with the possibility of launching preemptive missiles against the Russians. Though they initially receive an order to launch, a second failed transmission suggests that the the launch may have been superseded. This is where it gets particularly interesting as Hackman interprets the situation as needing to launch, while Washington believes they should wait for confirmation. The two battle it out as the sailors on the submarine take sides, with the fate of the U.S. and Russia both hanging in the balance.


Man on Fire - Most people I talked to had a more positive reaction to this film than I did. Admittedly, that may be because I saw a neutered version on TV. John Creasy (Washington) is a suicidal ex-Marine who’s hired by a wealthy guy named Ramos to protect his daughter, played by Dakota Fanning. The rich have been subjected to a lot of kidnapping ransoms lately, and Ramos will have none of that. Eventually the bad guys corner Creasy and Dakota, and though he puts up a valiant fight, they nab her. The rest of the movie is Creasy killing everyone involved, though he does learn that he does have reasons to live (and die). The movie was too slowly paced for me, but Washington’s relationship with the little girl and the action when it showed up was impressive.

Deja Vu - This is the most forgettable film of the bunch, another in a long line of Hollywood flicks that ask the audience to turn off their brain and simply indulge in the action on the screen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time, but is in this case. A boat blows up, and Doug (Washington) is assigned to investigate it. He does so using a new fancy-schmancy government development known as “Snow White,” a tool that can be used to look four days into the past. He does incredible things, even to the point of changing history, which is where the fork in the road lies where one chooses to embrace or reject the movie. I found the plot holes too big, and for an apt description of why, I ask you to consult the much better film Back to the Future. In a word, meh. 

The Taking of Pelham 123 - Actually, though most critics would disagree with me, I enjoyed this Scott joint as much as the far more critically acclaimed Crimson Tide. Villain Ryder (John Travolta, in one of his best villain roles) and team seize control of the train Pelham 123 and demand a hefty ransom to be paid within an hour. For each minute after an hour that he doesn’t have the money, a passenger will die. He gives his demands through dispatcher Walter Garber (Washington), and refuses to deal with anyone else. The movie is very tense, thanks in large part to Travolta’s no-nonsense bad guy. He doesn’t mince words, and follows through on his promises. He’s very intelligent, and the performance outshines Washington’s. The film moves fast and is impressive in its unlikely, even dirty, hero, and Ryder’s propensity for psychological warfare in addition to his cold blooded killing.

Is this a match made in heaven? No, but even though the collaboration between this actor and director isn’t as epic as Scorsese/De Niro or Scorsese/DiCaprio or even Spike Lee and Denzel Washington, they’ve got a decent string of movies here. Here’s hoping Unstoppable joins the ranks of Crimson Tide and Pelham 123. 


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