Runaway Train (DVD) Review
Runaway Train is the tale of two convicts determined to escape a maximum security prison at any cost and the young train crew member that gets caught up in their escape.
1985 Alaska, two convicts Oscar ‘Manny’ Manheim (Jon Voight), a man so dangerous he’s spent the last three years welded in his cell and Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts), a young prize fighting punk with more guts than brains decide to escape from Stonehaven Prison. A place in the middle of nowhere ran by Warden Ranken (John P. Ryan), a man that has the power of life and death in his hands and uses it freely.
After being released by court order from his welded cell Manny takes the opportunity to escape with Buck coming along uninvited. After a harsh travel through the icy winter landscape they end up in a train yard jumping the meanest looking train you’d ever see. Hiding in the bowels of the train they don’t realize that the engineer has fallen off after a heart attack, with no brakes and no knowledge they find themselves on a runaway train just minutes from disaster.
After a miraculous survival from impacting an oncoming train these two men encounter on the locomotive a young female crew member Sara (Rebecca De Mornay) who doesn’t know much about the running’s of the train but more than they do. As they team up and try to survive tensions come to blows, Ranken heads after them and the train company has to decide which is worth more, three lives or a chemical plant in their path.
Runaway Train is a great example of 80s cinema at it’s peak. The story is filled with action but more than that the beginning few minutes in the prison work well to explain who the men are and why they want to escape with a huge amount of detail packed efficiently into a very small window of time. The action is solid and above reproach even with critiqued by today’s standards. The prison dialogue is more realistic than would be found in most features wanting to play it safe. As for the acting, Runaway Train is more than a simple action movie it’s a character piece that would survive or fail based on the performances of Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.
The ending is poignant and would be even more so to anyone that has ever been held captive by another. Where Jon Voight’s ‘in your face, I wear my emotions on my sleeve’ character wins out as far as having a better ending is concerned it’s probably a fair assessment to say that Eric Roberts may have had the harder role in Buck McGeehy and yet was able to pull it off superbly. Writing an honest character who’s a bit slow to catch on he’s being used is hard enough, but to act ignorant to the fact your being used realistically for most of a film takes real talent. It’s become something most don’t dare attempt these days so those kind of characters have been written out of most features to avoid the issue and the challenge. The fact that both men were nominated for Academy Awards for their work here should come to no surprise once you’ve seen the film. As for De Mornay, she makes her mark well playing the two men off one another but looking at it with a modern eye if ever a remake was considered now it’s easy to imagine the talented Emma Roberts being able to twist the knife between them even better and add a bit of credibility to the project.
For this new release of Runaway Train Arrow Video have really gone above and beyond what anyone would’ve expected. Released as a DVD & Blu-ray combo edition the physical packaging itself is first worth a mention. Starting with a stylish reversible sleeve of two different interchangeable packshot designs with original and newly commissioned artwork. What’s also included is a well designed booklet featuring interviews, production information, the original Life Magazine article that inspired the film and is filled with behind the scenes production images presented in a great way anyone would love to see.
On the disc extras include new long and interesting interviews with director Andrei Konchalovsky, leads Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and co-star Kyle T. Heffner along with trailers. The only thing missing here that would’ve added even more value would’ve been a long making-of documentary filled with original footage but between the interview content and the contents of the booklet along with the stills it’s hard to imagine much else being able to be known that isn’t seen by what’s already here.
As a rule of thumb it’s always possible to tell a quality film when those involved come back to do fresh interviews decades later. Runaway Train is filled with benchmark performances, a well thought out grounded plot and realistic dialogue. If more modern action films used this as a guide there would be a lot more to look forward to from future releases.