Runaway Train

YEAR: 1985

WRITER: Djordje Milicevic & Paul Zindel & Edward Bunker (screenplay), Akira Kurosawa (based on a screenplay by), Ryûzô Kikushima & Hideo Oguni (story)

DIRECTOR: Andrey Konchalovskiy

BUDGET: $9 million (estimated)

GROSS: $7,936,012


Runaway Train is one-third prison escape movie and two-thirds runaway train movie. after busting out of an alaskan maximum-security prison, manny (jon voight) and buck (eric roberts) cross a frozen wasteland and hop on a train. but, the engineer has a heart attack the train becomes a runaway train...

both voight and roberts were nominated for academy awards and golden globes and director konchalovskiy was nominated for a palm d'or at cannes. also, the film is based on a screenplay by the great akira kurusawa. given those last two sentences - how can you not be curious to see this film? i know i sure was. so how was it you ask? well, it was really good. but, it was good partly because of, but also, in spite of itself. allow me to explain...

the film plays big and in so doing it tries to walk that line of grand vs. over the top. but it keeps taking steps over that line. beginning with the performances. i honestly have no idea how roberts and voight got nominations.

i will say that i think jon voight is a great actor, but in this film i don't know if most of the time he can even see the line from where he is. his performance, and roberts' as well, is so big and theatrical - like he is playing to the back of a crowded theatre. sometimes he rains it in to "good big" levels, but then in the next scene there he goes again. and his performance is kind of a metaphor for the film itself. konchalovskiy seems to have a solid vision for the movie that sometimes gets away from him.

this inconsistency can also be heard in the films score. while some action moments were backed up with this typical 80s synth score, others were brought to life with a beautiful heavy dramatic sound that really brought the grand weight of the drama to life. there is definitely a shakespearian element to the script and the characters, highlighted by the quote from Richard III that closes the film.

Runaway Train deserves credit as a good thriller/action film. the train sequences are good (it looks like they did a lot of stuff with real trains), the film moves at a nice pace and the script provides us with enough information to care and understand what's going on without feeling the need for loads of exposition. and i gotta say that i really liked the ending - which is often where many of these types of movies end up failing. the big dramatic finale is an example of konchalovskiy walking right up to that "over the top" line but not crossing it.