Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Runaway Train. B+

One could say that Runaway Train was revitalized by references because of the release of Tony Scott's highly praised Unstoppable last fall. Many reviews spoke of the mostly forgotten adventure film, with a lot of critics praising Scott's movie while calling Andrei Konchalovsky's a better one. And though I haven't seen Scott's latest, I assume Runaway Train is superior even if Unstoppable is Scott's best movie in years. Runaway Train stands out chiefly for its suspense. Any movie with a runaway train is pretty much guaranteed to be thrilling, but this one really gets your heart pounding with some amazing stunt work concerning the main characters trying to get to the front of the train to stop it. The set-up is this: two escaped convicts, one strong but ignorant, the other gruff, mean, and complicated (at one point a woman tells him that he's an animal, and he replies: "No, worse. I'm a human"), jump on a train just as the engineer suffers a heart attack, leaving it unmanned. As the train picks up speed, so does the tension between the two men, resulting in an awesome and memorable resolution. There's an underlying intelligence to this movie that raises it above most action flicks, and that's because of the characters and how convincingly they're played by Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. Runaway Train comes from a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, who never got the financing together to make it after Red Beard. I would have loved to see what he did with it, though with the success of the film one must assume that the screenwriters stayed pretty close to his original plan. My main complaint with the movie are the scenes in the control room where the dispatchers must find out how to stop the train. These characters aren't part of the movie, and the scenes lack real tension because we know they're there just to explain the various dangers of the situation. I think it would have served the movie better if we got the information conveyed in these scenes with a few sequences of pedestrians watching the news. That way there could be more focus on the train itself and those on it.

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