3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Bleak and sometimes harrowing, but utterly haunting,
This review is from: Runaway Train [DVD] (DVD)
Based on a screenplay originally by Akira Kurosawa and directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, this is a harrowing yet strangely moving film. At first sight it's uncompromisingly grim, as it depicts the violence and hopelessness endemic in the prison from which dangerous convict Oscar `Manny' Manheim (Jon Voight) and his not-so-dangerous (in fact rather dumb) fellow convict Buck (Eric Roberts) escape into the snowy wilderness of Alaska. They stow away on board a goods train at a remote station, but as it pulls out of the station the driver has a heart attack and falls from the cabin. The train becomes a runaway which cannot be stopped by the usual process because the automated brakes have failed. It barrels on through the bleak Alaskan landscape, and the only way it can be stopped is for the railway dispatchers to divert and deliberately derail it. But they don't realise that there are people aboard - not just Manny and Buck but railway worker Sara (Rebecca de Mornay)...
Jon Voight gives a superb performance as Manny, hard and dangerous, yet with a kind of morality at his core that is lacking in the sadistic warden, Rankin, who pursues Manny relentlessly, risking - and eventually forfeiting - his own life in the process. One of the film's most memorable scenes is where Manny tries to persuade Buck not to waste his life in criminal activities, but to get a job - even the most menial of jobs - and do it to the best of his ability. Buck asks Manny if he could do that and Manny says quietly, with sadness and a hint of despair, `I wish I could.'
The ending of the film is utterly haunting, as Manny, having saved Buck and Sara by uncoupling the engine (getting his hand crushed in the process) from their car, climbs onto the roof of the engine and stands there, facing his inevitable death as the train thunders on through the Alaskan wastes to its eventual destruction. Knowing that he can never live in ordinary society, he prefers to die rather than be recaptured and imprisoned again. We see his figure, upright on the roof of the train, receding into the distance and becoming absorbed into the falling snow, while the screen shows the lines from Shakespeare's Richard III: `No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore I am no beast'.