Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle T. Heffne, John P. Ryan, T. K. Carter, Kenneth McMillan, Stacey Pickren, Walter Wyatt, Edward Bunker, Reid Cruikshanks, Dan Wray, Michael Lee Gogin, John Bloom, Norton E. "Hank" Warden, Danny Trejo, Tiny Lister
Written by: Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel, Edward Bunker, based on a story by Akira Kurosawa
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 111
Date: 11/14/1985

Runaway Train (1985)

4 Stars (out of 4)

I Got Shoes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Perhaps the finest film ever to emerge from the Golan-Globus empire, Runaway Train has a multi-colored pedigree. It's directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, who co-wrote Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, widely considered one of the best films ever made. Its story comes from Akira Kurosawa (whose Ran was released the same year); he apparently abandoned the idea of ever making it.

Of the three screenwriters, one was Eddie Bunker, famed convict-turned author, who was best known for his novel Straight Time and for appearing as one of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Another former convict, Danny Trejo, makes his debut here, playing a boxer.

It's a great, simple story, and, in the history of action movies, ought to be considered alongside Die Hard and Speed. Hardened prisoner Manny (Jon Voight) is released from solitary after three years and plans his escape from an Alaska prison. Chatty laundry cart-pusher Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts) helps him out and decides to go with him.

They board the nearest train, from which the engineer has just fallen off after a heart attack. After some time, they find they are on board with one railroad employee, Sara (Rebecca De Mornay). They go through all the possibilities of stopping the train, with little luck. Meanwhile, the warden is in hot (or cold) pursuit, while a roomful of quasi-comical train dispatch guys try to re-route the out-of-control locomotive.

It's exactly what this kind of movie should be. Konchalovsky spends quality time on the characters, establishes the space and the rules of the situation, and keeps up a kind of relentless suspense throughout. He even chooses the best possible ending, with an unforgettable image. Miraculously, Voight -- his eyes searing like hot coals -- received a Best Actor nomination (he lost to William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Roberts ("I got shoes!") received one for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Don Ameche for Cocoon).

It even received a third nomination for Best Editing, a rarity for anything not also nominated for Best Picture, and a great compliment to this movie's exquisite, extraordinary pacing. Runaway Train is an unsung classic that deserves to be seen again and again.

Kino Lorber's 2017 DVD re-issue comes with a batch of trailers, mostly train-related (The General, The Taking of Pelham, One, Two Three, etc.) and optional subtitles. I'm not sure why no Blu-ray was offered, but I was more than satisfied with the picture and sound on this one. In 2021, Kino followed-up with the long-awaited Blu-ray! The picture is a teeny bit heavier on the blacks, but looks great. It includes a commentary track by Roberts and film historians David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner, a "Trailers from Hell" episode, radio spots, and a batch of trailers for this and other KL releases. Highly recommended.

Movies Unlimtied