I love runaway train movies so my bias leans positive for this one, too. The British thriller Last Passenger unleashes another scenario where a madman has taken the reigns of a train with no intention to slow down. Near its’ last stops towards the end of the night, there are only six passengers left to decide what to do. One of them calls different police divisions, but nobody in the graveyard shift seems equipped to handle the call. The madman has locked himself into the controls, which leaves the helpless six the decision of whether to try to break in or decouple the train carriages – since this film plays it real then the solutions are actually hard to accomplish. Dougray Scott, as a medic and father of a boy on board, is the ordinary man who becomes a reluctant hero.
I’m very much part of the cinema nerddom that sanctions the silent movie classic “The General” (1926) as an essential of not only the runaway train movie but of the silent film era overall. The rebel within me says however that “Runaway Train” (1985) – great title (!) – with escaped convicts Jon Voight and Eric Roberts on a mighty locomotive in Alaska is the real best of the out of control train movies, an influential and thrilling predecessor to Keanu Reeves’ “Speed” (1994). I have also had over the years a heart-pumping enthusiasm for “Silver Streak” (1976), “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” (1995) and “Unstoppable” (2010), all of them over-wrought but thrilling.
What separates “Last Passenger” from the others is, first, its cozy safe trip home feel, and then its credible and subtle approach that upholds the virtue of old-fashioned plausibility. Hitchcock often underplayed the horror so he could slowly build up the malice. I can’t help but slightly complain though that we hardly get to know anything about the “villain” who is so concealed by the audience that he might as well be referred to Plot Plug-in. Reasoning suggests that the madman might be suicidal and has no intention of stopping (not much else about him is known). We never get a glimpse into his mind, and barely get a glimpse of his face for that matter.
I do appreciate how the passengers think their way through the situation, knowing that in less than forty-minutes the train is going to slam into a dead end. Think fast! Slow this train down! Scott (“Mission: Impossible II,” “My Week with Marilyn”), getting us to relate to the predicament, is kind of a crankier but more galvanized version of Sam Neill of the “Jurassic Park” movies, and I think he could from here on become more interesting as a middle-aged hero. He strikes up a flirtation with Kara Tointon, an actress I know nothing about but will not soon forget. Is it unprofessional of me or reassuring of how human I am if I say Tointon is unbelievably pretty, mmm-mmm, classy-pretty? She is every thinking hero’s dream seatmate. Forget the train crash. How much time does he have left to win her heart?!!
The ending lacks the punch or ingenuity of a great film, but it’s still a novelty. Throughout, I loved the aura of the night fog enveloping the train, the blurred lights that refract through the window, and one shot of the train headbound into the camera while sparks fly from the brakes screeching on the rails. The train, which is supposed to be a friendly transportation system, becomes a vehicle of destruction – once a film does that, I’m hooked. I love observing people in peril on trains. For “Last Passenger,” I was easy to please because of the implemented classical Hitchcock style. This is Omid Nooshin’s first film.
97 Minutes. Rated R.
SUSPENSE / RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK THRILLER / WEEKEND THRILLS