Runaway Train (1985)
Runaway Train (1985)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Release Date: December 6th, 1985 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Andrei Konchalovsky Actors: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle T. Heffner, John P. Ryan, T.K. Carter, Kenneth McMillan, Danny Trejo




arely are audiences treated to an action film so energetically engrossing and yet so engorged with humanistic insight, subtle revelatory messages, and between-the-lines morality. The extreme antiheroes of the film are unimaginably original; simply put, the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good. This drastic switch in major roles lends to a gritty yet moving experience unlike anything the disadvantageously generic title could have appropriately prepared viewers for.

Manny (Jon Voight) is a hardened criminal who escapes from a maximum-security Alaskan prison with younger, naïve inmate Buck (Eric Roberts). During their flight, they inadvertently end up boarding a train whose engineer has died of a heart attack. Speeding towards certain disaster, the two prisoners team up with the only other passenger on the freighter, railroad worker Sara (Rebecca DeMornay), striving to steer clear of an impending doom. The sinister warden (John P. Ryan) wants the convicts dead, while the aggregation of railway employees attempt to do everything in their power to prevent the mechanical juggernaut from engaging in head-on collisions, crossing decrepit bridges, and terminating in a literally toxic derailment.

Infusing their characters with a surprising amount of depth, Jon Voight and Eric Roberts make for an engaging, unlikely partnership. Voight is a strong lead, though his character is scarred, bitter, erratic, and a sinister degenerate – establishing qualities for an exhilarating eventual redemption. Buck, while also a felon, is contrastingly simpler and calmer; he is a thug lacking deep cognitive ability and, like a figurative battering ram, is readily manipulated by his corrupt role model. The dialogue is also noteworthy, as it helps define Manny and Buck’s opposing viewpoints and rationalizes their survivalist mentalities. DeMornay is the fragile glue that keeps them from mindlessly slaughtering one another, and the key to both comprehending and calculating their collectively desperate situation. Voight and Roberts’ superb acting didn’t go unnoticed, as they were both nominated for 1985 Academy Awards.

Based on a screenplay by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, “Runaway Train” is filled with the profundities of life, death, aggressions, ethical choices, and malleable destiny. Kurosawa’s touch molds an otherwise basic film into wholly thought-provoking entertainment, with his familiar motifs shaping a thrilling action panoply containing both heart and wild adventure. Director Andrei Konchalovsky has made few American films (he also helmed the “Lethal Weapon” counterfeit “Tango & Cash”), but this early example is an exceptional directorial outing.

With plenty of nerve-wracking suspense and tension among the embittered trio, the film manages to deftly imbue audiences with the moral dilemmas and far-reaching concerns of the characters. The inalterable course of the speeding train parallels fate and man’s struggle to alter it, but the film also mixes in cinematic themes of revenge, the acceptance of mortality, the animalistic nature of humankind, ultimate sacrifices, and an intrinsic desire for peace. Numerous, unpredictably cohesive elements collaborate, unveiling an intensity and underlying poignancy that come as a great surprise considering the cliché action movie title. This “Train” carries far more than just the anticipated barrage of harrowingly evasive maneuvers.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10