Andrei Konchalovsky’s ‘Runaway Train’

Being pleasantly surprised isn’t something that happens enough for me, but this week I was charmed to prove myself wrong by watching Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train. A film I honestly thought I’d hate (this was my first viewing), Train proved to be a tight action film that also offered plentiful doses of psychological tension.

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Runaway Train feels like two movies, and that’s not a bad thing. It starts off as a prison break out drama following two convicts, Manny (John Voight) and Buck (Eric Roberts), as they escape Stonehaven Prison in the middle of Alaskan winter. This beginning is a great watch and is shot and edited in such a way that the audience really do get a feel for what its like being in Stonehaven. Things are run and controlled by sadistic warden Ranken (John P Ryan) who see’s his captured criminals as prizes. Ranken and Manny in particular have a strong disliking for each other, so the latter’s successful escape (which includes a swim in freezing water and a hike through dense, snowed under woods) launches a full scale investigation to get him back…

Which is where the film turns into more of an action feature. Manny and Buck come across a train yard and board a freight train to aid them getting as far away as possible. Only the freight train’s brakes fail and the driver (whose body they throw off the train) has had a heart attack. This leaves the two convicts stuck on the locomotive, hurtling through Alaska at unstoppable speeds, unsure of what to do. Meanwhile, the train company attempt to stop the train and any potential accidents from happening by using a brand new computerised system. Can the company stop the train? Will Manny and Buck be captured by Ranken?

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What makes Runaway Train such a special watch are the two central performances from Voight and Roberts. Both were nominated for Oscars for their roles and its very clear to see why. Voight is terrific as Manny; hardened, bitter, troubled and fragile. Roberts is also a revelation, here playing Buck with cockiness and vulnerability that make him such an endearing character. Forget the straight-to-dvd releases and rubbish B-movies that he may be associated with now, here Roberts proves he can act with as much clout as the best of the rest. The supporting cast, including Rebecca De Mornay and Kyle T. Heffner are also brilliant, but ultimately the film belongs to Voight and Roberts.

Being it’s Blu-ray debut, Arrow have done a job presenting the film in high definition from a transfer done by MGM that had its 2010 premiere in the Classics Section of the Cannes Film Festival (where it was actually shown in 1986). The picture is beautifully crisp and clear, making the Alaskan set more hostile and isolated. The release package also contains some great extras, including interviews with director Konchalovsky and some of its cast, commentary and booklet exploring the films production design and inspiration. If you’ve never seen it, or casually watched it go by in the past, this release of Runaway Train is a must have – an intelligent action flick that stands the test of time.

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