The story idea is thrilling just in itself. Witness to a mob murder, Carol Honnicut played by Anne Archer is forced to flee for her life before she can possibly testify. She is tracked down by grizzled deputy D.A. Robert Caufield (Gene Hackman), but at the same time because of a mystery mole in the D.A.'s office the mob and various henchmen are also on the trail of Ms Honnicut. Forced to take refuge on a passing train travelling through the Canadian Rockies, the question is will the pursuing bad guys find Caufield and Honnicut before these two make it to safety.
Hackman is great in this sort of film. He manages to find the right balance between being a all-action hero and a sensitive father figure and yet still use all the tricks in the book to increase the tension levels at every opportunity. The rest of the cast support ably well although none of them, including Archer, really have enough of the action to make a great impression. Mentions to James Sikking as the lead henchman for a pretty good sinister performance though.
** Possible Spoilers**
Where the film let's itself down though is the numerous occasions where the "right" course of action is blindingly obvious yet the main leads go bumbling down the wrong path, leading themselves into more danger. Caufield, creeping around the buffet car, trying not to let anyone notice him, meets a pretty woman and within seconds has told her his name! Using the toy gun as a decoy he disarms one of the baddies, "Ha Ha! Toy Gun!" he gleefully crows until the baddie gives him a good whack! Honnicut puts on a pregnant act in order to get the last private carriage on the train, and then runs out of the ticket office in full view of everyone, including the kindly elderly couple who have given up their tickets with no further pretence at the act! There are plenty more occasions for more of this type of poor screenplay and with a bit of attention to detail this could have been a real gem of a film.
I won't be too hard on the film though. It's still great fun and still gets you gasping at all the right points and hey guess what? It's a train film and the goodie and the baddie end up rolling around on the roof! Now there's a surprise!
The plot is simple. A woman, Carol Hunnicutt (Anne Archer), goes on a blind date with an attorney (J.T. Walsh) with whom a well meaning friend has set her up. He gets a business call that he needs to return as soon as possible. She accompanies him to his apartment. She excuses herself and goes to use the bathroom. In the interim, he is visited by one of his clients, Leo Watts, and another man. Watts confronts the attorney with the fact that he knows that the attorney has gotten himself into a financial hole and has, consequently, stolen a lot of money from him. The attorney, knowing watts to be a ruthless mobster, begins to cry. Carol, overhearing the commotion, cautiously opens the door, only to see the other man with Watts execute her blind date.
Terror stricken, she sits mute for sometime and then disappears to a remote Canadian location, where she is ultimately tracked down by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) and a Los Angeles Police Department Detective, who has accompanied him. They are working on the case involving the murder of the attorney, and they believe that she may have some relevant information, as her fingerprints were discovered at the crime scene and traced back to her via an old anti-war protest arrest.
Unfortunately, Watts' men also find her, almost simultaneously, and the games begin in earnest, with the detective killed in the process. Robert and Carol make a run for it and board a train headed towards Vancouver. Right behind them are the hit men, who also board the same train, hot on their heels. A life or death cat and mouse game commences. What happens on that train will keep the viewer riveted to the screen. This is, without a doubt, a well executed thriller.
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