Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runaway Train (1985)

Comments Off on Runaway Train (1985) 07 February 2018

Runaway Train DVD

Studio: Kino

Theatrical Release: November 15, 1985 (limited)

DVD Release: June 13, 2017

Director: Andrey Konchalovsky


Review by James Klein

“You’re an animal!” 

“No, worse…human.” 

I have very fond memories of Runaway Train as a kid. Growing up on Cannon Films, I saw practically every action film or horror film by Cannon so naturally I ended up seeing this movie and at such a young and impressionable age, it left an impact on me. Runaway Train is a grueling thriller, a dark and at times violent story about a hardened convict and another young prison inmate breaking out of jail and taking on the snowy landscape of Alaska to find freedom. 

I believe it was Scarface that started the over the top performances by Al Pacino where in his earlier films such as The Godfather, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon his performances didn’t rely on exaggerated characters and their strange mannerisms, screaming out lines or at times hamming it up. Runaway Train is Jon Voight’s Scarface. Voight, like Pacino, started out in such classics as Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, and Coming Home where his performances were much more subtle and reserved. But his role as Oscar “Manny” Manheim is one for the books as his over the top performance is close to parody with not quite going over (wait until Anaconda to see some real over the top Voight). Voight actually was nominated for an Academy Award in 1986 for this part and while I think he is great and fun to watch, the character of Manny can be at times a little too spastic and unhinged. You can tell Voight had a lot of fun making this film that’s for sure.  

After a prison riot where convict Manny is stabbed only to be rescued by his long time friend Jonah (Eddie Bunker from Reservoir Dogs) he decides it’s time to break out of the hell hole and escape. With the help / aid of  young prisoner Buck (Eric Roberts who is no stranger at going over the top and does so a few times here, which evidently he too was nominated for an Academy Award) the two convicts escape jail and are forced to make a trek across the freezing and snowy Alaskian landscape. On their heels is the brutal Warden Rankin (John P. Ryan from Delta Force 2) who has a personal vendetta against Manny and is almost astatic when Manny escapes as that means Rankin has the power and authority to finally kill Manny once and for all.

The two men take refugee on a train and hide in one of the cars, thinking they may have made it until the train conductor dies of a heart attack and the train’s brakes suddenly don’t work, thus resulting in a runaway train that cannot be stopped until it crashes. This massive ticking time bomb’s only other passenger is Sara (Rebecca De Mornay from Risky Business) a railway worker who inadvertently causes a feud between the two men as they try and think of ways to escape. Sara, unlike the impressionable Buck, is not afraid to call out Manny’s bullshit which results in a violent confrontation. 

While all of these scenes are exciting and captivating, the film loses focus and goes off the track (pun intended) every time it cuts to scenes with the railway dispatchers who quarrel over a computer system that may have the ability to clear the tracks ahead of the runaway. The man who designed the flawed system is played by Kyle T. Heffner whose annoying irritating performance is like nails on a chalkboard, spouting off some awful lines of dialog that sound forced and phony. His performance is pretty damn bad and stops the movie dead in its tracks (another pun intended). Not even the likes of character actor Kenneth McMillan can save these scenes. Being that there were three screenwriters on this film, I can only imagine one of these dolts had the job at writing this segment with the dispatchers. However I blame Heffner for not being able to act out of a paper bag. 

Thankfully the film’s thrilling third act is one for the books with some hair-raising stunt work that will leave viewers on the edge of their seat. It amazes me that Runaway Train isn’t as memorable as it should be. There is a lot to like about this film despite some obvious flaws. It’s an entertaining thriller without being moronic like most Hollywood movies made now. 

Kino Lorber’s DVD release looks pretty darn good. I owned the older MGM DVD and this is by far superior in both picture and sound. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the movie’s image looks so much sharper and brighter than older, murkier versions that were previously released. The DVD comes with a 2.0 stereo track which sounds fine but nothing to write home about. Given the lack of extras on the DVD (only the trailer is provided) it is no wonder this film hasn’t gotten the acclaim and positive word of mouth it so deserves. Even the plain menu screen of the film’s title on a white background seems lazy and effortless. So while the DVD looks great and sounds ok, more extras would have been a nice surprise. 

If one can get past the sequences with the dispatchers (those moments really suck the life out of this movie) Runaway Train is a grand thriller, a dark brutal drama about survival that is unforgettable thanks to some great performances and thrilling action sequences and stunt work. 

Movie Rating: ★★★★☆

DVD Rating: ★★★☆☆

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