To my great shame, I was unfamiliar with Runaway Train. It’s a Cannon venture, from the company notorious for low budget action films, starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts (both receiving Oscar nominations for their roles) and based on a story by Akira Kurosawa. Yes, THE Akira Kurosawa. Shame on me, but a shame now washed clean by this new release from Twilight Time.
Voight plays Manny, a bank robber just released into the general population of a high security prison in Alaska after serving 3 years in solitary for multiple escape attempts. Manny soon meets with efforts orchestrated by the warden to ensure he meets a untimely demise, forcing him to accelerate another escape attempt. Teaming up with fellow inmate Buck (Roberts), they break out and jump on a nearby freight train; but soon after departure the driver suffers a heart attack, leaving the locomotive out of control and building up speed. On board they discover Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), a maintenance worker trapped like them. As the men struggle to achieve dominance and a way out of their situation, the network control room attempts to halt the train, while the warden becomes increasingly determined to recapture his former prisoners.
It’s a pretty simple premise: a prison drama that transitions into an action thriller. A stripped down concept, but one that director Andrei Konchalovsky manages to squeeze every bit of intensity out of. Runaway Train shows impressive production design, from the gritty prison to the industrial train hulking through the Alaskan winter. It cuts to panic and efforts in the rail control room, workers changing the train’s route and avoiding collisions with other trains and infrastructure where the speed of the runaway locomotive would cause devastation. But the main focus is on the train itself, with the trio of passengers and friction between them. Sara of course is a vulnerable element and largely the voice of reason due to her engineering knowledge. Trapped with a rapist (Buck) and a bank robber (Manny), both determined to evade capture, the friction between them increases, giving the film an vital energy as well as a palpable sense of danger for Sara, and not just because she’s on board an out of control train.
Voight is a guttural force, at times channeling the unhinged tendencies within that are recognizable today and drive his championing of Trump. Eric Roberts creates in Buck someone equally unstable, but in a way that offers up some lighter moments and banter, a weird contrast to the fact that his character is serving time for rape. It’s a curious scenario for a pair of legitimately bad people. Circumstances are forcing these criminals to reflect, make choices, and in some respects find a little redemption. This as well as a number of other production choices take a hard hitting thriller and give it a strange tone, encapsulated perfectly by a final shot that closes out with a quote from Shakespeare’s Richard III, “No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.” It’s an intense ride that brings with it plenty of character and poignancy.
THE PACKAGEAside from the odd specks or scratch, the image is of excellent quality. Good sharpness and detail throughout, from darker interiors to the more stark snow covered exterior scenes. It’s an impressive transfer.
The only special feature of note is an audio commentary features Twilight Time regulars David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner. These film historians are joined by star Eric Roberts, which makes for a very interesting and entertaining listen. The commentary is packed with plenty of anecdotes about filming, how the stage and location work came together, and more. The disc is also host to a trailer for the film and a MGM 90th Anniversary trailer. There is also the customary Twilight Time booklet included featuring original poster art as well as a great breakdown/essay on the movie by film historian Julie Kirgo.
THE BOTTOM LINERunaway Train takes a simple premise and wrings every last bit of entertainment and intensity out of it largely thanks to impressive performances from Voight and Roberts. A superb looking transfer and top notch audio commentary make this a great release from Twilight Time, for a cinematic gem that deserves to be unearthed.
Runaway Train is available from Twilight Time now in a limited edition release of 3,000 units.