• Denzel Washington’s strategic decision to cut major backstory pieces from the script of 2010’s
    improved the film’s focus.
  • The movie’s reduced character background allowed for enhanced action and character development balance.
  • Chris Pine’s collaboration with Washington on
    showcased an effective method of engaging storytelling without relying too much on backstory.

Chris Pine has opened up about how co-star Denzel Washington skillfully improved his 2010 thriller Unstoppable using his unique approach to character backstory in the original script. The disaster movie focuses on Pine and Washington as a conductor and engineer respectively, trying to stop a runaway train housing dangerous chemicals from crashing. Critics praised the movie for its action and intensity, with the film later getting an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing.

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Pine revealed how the critically praised Unstoppable was improved by Washington through one key change in the script process.

Starting at 12:26, the star explains how, while reading the script for the movie, he felt as if his character didn’t have enough backstory compared to his co-star’s. However, The Equalizer actor decided to cut many of his lines about his own backstory, making Pine realize the power of an engaging performance. Check out what Pine had to say below:

To make a film with Denzel [Washington], where it was basically just a two-hander, me and him in the cab of this train, I got to learn a lot by osmosis, just by being around him and seeing how he handled the camera and handled his work and handled story structure. I remember, what comes up now for me about Denzel is Mark Bomback had written this beautiful script. And there was a lot of backstory stuff in there, and not enough backstory stuff for me, and I kept on fighting to have more story about my character. And I remember Denzel in the script process was just cutting all the stuff about his family. He’s like, ‘I don’t have to say that, I don’t have to say that, I don’t have to say that, I can do that, I can do that.’ And that is the power, I think, of a really skilled cinema actor, is knowing how powerful and emotive he is just by being him, and how much he’s able to carry on to the film just by simply being in the film. So that was a great lesson from that.

How Washington Cutting Backstory Improved Unstoppable’s Story

Denzel Washington as Frank Barnes stans in between two moving trains in Unstoppable

While direct backstory wasn’t a key component of the runaway train movie, Washington’s decision to cut major parts of it from the script shows how irrelevant much of it would have been. This forced the film to focus more on the action-packed situation of trying to stop the train, giving the lead actors’ characters just enough development for the audience to care about their plight. The decisions the star made ended up working, making Unstoppable one of the best train movies, and one of the most intense, ever made.

Had the major amount of backstory for Washington’s Frank Barnes been kept in the movie, it may have bogged down its fast pace and action-oriented story. While it may have improved his character development, his performance and what made it into the final cut was enough to situate him as a hero to root for. The same goes for Pine’s Will Colson, who didn’t need a vast amount of backstory in order to be considered an engaging protagonist.

Since the film is considered one of Washington’s best movies, it’s clear the decisions he made surrounding backstory were the best way to improve the overall experience. Weaving the action with character development helped the film become a memorable thriller, something that may not have happened if there had been too much presented about their lives during the disaster. With these small improvements from the movie star, Unstoppable was able to become a highly memorable movie about average people doing the near-impossible.

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Source: Entertainment Weekly/YouTube

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