Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

11 April 2011

Train Movies: Part 1

I don't know what got into me, but I watched Unstoppable, last year's Tony Scott film, and I liked it so much that I thought perhaps I would rent a couple of other train movies. I mean, there are quite a few famous ones – Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express comes immediately to mind – but, as I don't really re-watch movies, I thought I would check out a couple that I hadn't seen.

The thing that is great about Unstoppable is that it is, basically, a thrill a minute. The acting is passable, the storyline is highly improbable, and the whole thing has this very serious tone. It was also obviously written by the typical Hollywood writer who can't think of a more interesting villain than a big-business hatchet man whose main motive is "corporate greed" in the abstract. But I thought the whole thing was just so exciting. I mean, a train is barreling through Pennsylvania at like eighty-five miles an hour running into shit or nearly running into shit. I had a great time.

I watched Runaway Train, the Andrei Konchalovsky film with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts because I had thought that Unstoppable was based on this 1985 flick. Not so, it turns out. Runaway Train is a much smarter, much more 1970s-style film with an anti-hero in the Gene Hackman vein (I'm thinking of The Conversation and The French Connection). Runaway Train is about a prison breakout in Alaska. Jon Voight and Eric Roberts break out of the prison, sneak through the sewer system and get out to a trainyard somehow. After they get on the train, the drama really starts. This one doesn't have the suspenseful big-movie qualities that Unstoppable does, but it is not a film about trains crashing into shit like Unstoppable is.

Instead, Runaway Train is a film with an interesting ethical center, a movie interested in ethical conundrums and the essential humanity of the incarcerated. I was really into it, and since Runaway Train takes place on a train going ninety-five miles an hour, it's hard for it not to be suspenseful. Runaway Train also has an absolutely great ending, and you know how I love a great ending.

More train films to come. I'm just getting warmed up.