Washington plays “Frank”, an everyman Locomotive driver but with better teeth. Frank is soon to retire after 28 years on the job, with half benefits as the company are attempting to bring in new blood to cut costs. Chris Pine (Will) is exactly that, new blood estranged from his wife and son following an “incident” and will be watched like a hawk due to his family connections to the management of the business.
Rosario Dawson also does some good work as the yard supervisor attempting to manage the heroic boys on the train whilst keeping a caricatured management (Kevin Dunn) off their back. The spectre of what losses will be encountered and what it will do to the company stock price is ever present, something that audiences now accept as the reality of the world we live in.
The set up and hymn to the common working man with earthy tones, huge hulking trains with dirt grime and the sheer physicality of the railroad are very real in the first segment. You can almost smell the oil, feel the cold hard steel of locomotives and the pride of the staff that work there.
Due to some gross stupidity, a train gets loose with no driver, that’s alright as the “coaster” will come to a stop due to gravity or automatic application of the air brakes. Unfortunately the brakes are not set and gravity will not be able to fight the “full on throttle setting” dialed in before the driver left the cab.
So we have a great premise, few can resist the idea of a driver less runaway 1/2 mile long train hauling a hazardous and highly inflammable cargo into a populated area. Add in sharp low speed bend that must be traversed, a trainload of school children coming in the opposite direction and cinematically we have all the right ingredients.
Washington can do this in his sleep but he is again very believable and Chris Pine plays off him very well, the old timer versus the rookie type routine but done well. I liked the way Frank explains his daughters working at “Hooters”, he’s done it before, doesn’t like telling people but would rather just get it out there. Neither actor gets too much screen time, Washington makes the best use of the time allocated.
There is a lot of excellent real stunt work on display, Pine apparently doing his own and the sheer size and potential destructive capabilities of a runaway train is portrayed cinematically through multiple camera angles.
Some of the film is shown through news report “Live Cam” shots which is effective but annoying for a non American audience, some of the comments of the news reports appear to be there for audiences with extremely short attention spans. We got several unintended chuckles at our screening when 20 police cars are chasing a train for no reason and helicopter rotor wash impedes rescue attempts when they are only feet away trying to get the best news shot.
The continuity of train speed shots is also a bit dodgy at times, very fast one minute and then clearly travelling at low speed at others. Obviously 70 Kmh when you are running on top of the train is dangerous but it is difficult make it look fast to a modern audience.
It is also difficult to keep the suspense alive when the outcome may be known to many as this does stay reasonably true to real events. The suspense and excitement is allowed to dissipate towards the end but the film keeps to a short timetable at 98 minutes, so it’s a blast whilst it lasts.
There are times when the movie wants to say more about the common worker and what is becoming of him/her but after the opening salvos but this fades, almost as if the director opened that box and did not like what he saw.
Good fun action thriller, the first and mid sections are the best.
The end sequence feels formulaic and rather cheesy but overall, well worth a watch.