Kehr Capsule of the Week: Runaway Train (1985)

Considering how much is truly awful about this 1985 film—a ludicrous situation (two convicts and a woman are trapped on a locomotive speeding out of control through the Alaskan wilderness), gobs of undigested philosophical dialogue, an appallingly mannered Method performance by lead Jon Voight—it’s a high tribute to the skills of director Andrei Konchalovsky (Maria’s Lovers) that it comes off as gripping entertainment. Imagine a cross between the macho roughhouse of a Robert Aldrich film (Emperor of the North is a close comparison) and the visual texture (snow, rusting steel, licking flames) of a Tarkovsky thumb sucker like Stalker and you’ll have some idea. Konchalovsky excels both at the staging of claustrophobic psychodrama (the way he shoots the action in the cramped engine cab is a model of the creative use of restricted space) and large-scale action, setting up a very effective movement between emotional pressure and physical release. With Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay; based on an unproduced screenplay by Akira Kurosawa.

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