Runaway Train (1985)

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*. Golan-Globus was never a production label associated with high-quality, award-winning movies. In fact, they were responsible for an inordinate quantity of shit in the 1980s, including much of the oeuvre of Chuck Norris. And so the credits for this one are at the very least interesting: a script courtesy of Akira Kurosawa (more on that later), directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, and starring a pair of respected leads who both got surprising Oscar nominations (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts).
*. Should we count this one then as a hidden gem? Not quite. I find the story improbable in a bad way, and highly melodramatic. The performances are strained to the point of caricature, and the actors are not helped by the dialogue. Many of the characters are clichés. The action sequences are decently photographed and cut, but conventional in their operation. And finally the moral of the story is simplistic and overstated. The operatic, cowboy-style train ride to the strains of Vivaldi, and pan across the faces of the imprisoned cons at the end, are particularly trite moments. It’s hard for a movie to be both intellectually pretentious and cartoonish at the same time, but here you go.
*. That said, I do think this is a decent film, and I suppose there must be something here for so many people to think so highly of it. Roger Ebert gave it four stars!
*. The scenes of the train roaring through the wintry landscape (complete with moose in one shot) are nice, if a bit repetitive. Indeed, if I’m not mistaken they are repeated. Surely the train is going in and out of the same tunnel several times.
*. I had a little crush on Rebecca De Mornay after Risky Business and later with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. And she’s awfully cute here playing Sara, without a lot of make-up, mousy brown hair, and all bundled up in a snowsuit. But what’s with her instant bonding with the convicts? That’s a bit quick for Stockholm Syndrome to be setting in.
*. John P. Ryan’s Rankin is just laughable. From his speech to the inmates (“You’re all punks, hiding there yelling in the dark . Let me tell you where you assholes stand. First there’s God, then the warden, then my guards, then the dogs out there in the kennels, and finally you! Pieces of human waste!”), to all the rest of his ridiculous crazed-lawman routine (“Please God don’t kill them. Let me do it.”). Nothing seems too over the top for him. I mean, not only does he assault a civilian just trying to do his job, but his tirade makes no sense. “If I don’t get my convicts back the prison will be out of control. Do you know what a riot in a maximum security prison looks like?” Probably not, but that’s your job, Jack. So get on it. And by the way, I’ll be suing your ass for this bullshit brutality.
*. Based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, but I wonder how closely. Three screenwriters are credited, and still the best they could come up with (in addition to all of the crap coming out of Rankin’s mouth) is stuff like Manny saying: “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and “You’ll never take me back, Rankin! You’ll never get me alive, sucker!” And of course the deathless exchange with Sara: “You’re an animal!” “No, worse! Human.”
*. This final sentiment is repeated in the closing epigraph from Richard III, which is somewhat hard to interpret in context. Seeing as Manny has just performed a heroically altruistic action, the insensitive beast can only be a reference to Rankin, a comic minor character.
*. Yes, that’s Daniel (Danny) Trejo in his big screen debut as the boxer Eric Roberts is in the ring with in the prison fight. You can tell that tattoo anywhere.

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