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Win, lose, what's the difference?
Spikeopath22 November 2009
Based around a screenplay written by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, Runaway Train simultaneously follows three threads. The escape of two prisoners, Manny & Buck, who jump on a train only to find that the driver has a heart attack, thus it speeds out of control. Then there is the efforts of the train dispatching office to try and safely stop the out-of-control train. And also there's the hunt by the sadistic prison warden who is hellbent on recapturing the fleeing convicts.

Relentless and engrossing action film from start to finish, Runaway Train boasts two Oscar nominated performances from John Voight {Manny} and Eric Roberts {Buck} and no little intelligence with its well scripted characters. The opening quarter is pretty stock routine prison fare, these guys are tough, the warden is a bastard and we just know they are going to escape. But once the guys board the train the whole film shifts in gear and tone. The dynamic that exists between Manny & Buck, partners but very different in life approach, is riveting stuff courtesy of the nifty dialogue exchanges. Things are further enhanced by the appearance of Rebecca DeMornay's also stranded railway worker, Sara, who far from being a shoe-horned token female character, is the crucial piece of the emotional jigsaw. He presence gives the guys room to exorcise their demons and pour out their feelings of anger, bravado and mistrust.

The action scenes are very well handled by director Andrei Konchalovsky and his crew. As the train hurtles thru the snowy Alaskan wilderness we are treated to a number of crash bang wallops involving the train itself; derring-do from our boys on the icy outside of the locomotive, and a helicopter pursuit chartered by the obsessed John P. Ryan as Warden Ranken particularly stand out. Bona fide action sequences that are executed skilfully. Then we get to the finale, a finale pumped up for emotional impact, both visually and orally it closes the film justly. We even get time for a bit of Will Shakespeare as we go about reflecting on what we have just witnessed. A fine movie it be. 7.5/10
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A modest masterpiece
fertilecelluloid15 September 2005
The stock title promises action and suspense, and we get that, but with a story by Akira Kurosawa, expert direction by Russian émigré Andrei Konchalovsky and superior lensing by Alan Hume, we get a study of what defines a man.

John Voight and the vastly underrated Eric Roberts play two cons who escape from a hellish gulag and board a train with no driver. Their struggle to stop the train and battle their own inner demons is the movie.

Konchalovsky creates a cold, alien, ethereal world inside the train that, in the oddest way, provides a haven for self-examination for the two leads. Rebecca de Mournay is layered into the mix, as is the indefatigable John P. Ryan as a prison warden who risks death to return his charges to custody, but the movie belongs to Voight and Roberts who both bring tremendous humanity to their finely sketched characters.

The final image is as powerful as cinema gets and marks RUNAWAY TRAIN as a modest masterpiece.

Though often criticized for producing cheap rubbish, the Cannon Group, in fact, also produced many fine films including this, 52 PICK-UP and MARIA'S LOVERS (also Konchalovsky).
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a knock-out!
Jaime N. Christley29 July 1999
Everything about this film has a surreal, visceral, in-your-face quality; the anguished, violent intensity of the prison scenes, the frozen wastelands of the lands outside the prison (gee, a metaphor?), the train -- not just a lifeless machine but a huge, juggernaut-like beast -- that the title refers to, the fierce, animalistic performance by Jon Voight, who plays the character of Manny with such raw emotion and conviction that at no moment do we doubt that he is anything other than what he appears to be on screen.

It's based on a screenplay by the legendary Akira Kurosawa -- knowing this makes a lot of the elements a bit more familiar; the snow, the hopelessness, the apocalyptic atmosphere -- and it's directed by Russian Andrei Konchalovsky, who after this film directed two Hollywood embarrassments called "Homer & Eddie" and "Tango & Cash" (apparently trying to corner the market on ampersands), and most recently helmed the acclaimed Armand Assante mini-series "The Odyssey" for television. "Runaway Train" is not a perfect film, some of the minor supporting performances are really awful and some viewers may find Eric Roberts to be irritating, but the sheer kineticism, among the other stronger elements, makes it worthwhile. Often called an intellectual action picture, it's more of an existential one, i.e. man versus a indifferent/hostile universe, etc. Everything in the film has a greater, more universal meaning, and it's not rocket science to figure out what stands for what. The simplicity of its metaphors doesn't dull the impact of "Runaway Train" as a sensory experience, though, because it's still pretty potent stuff. Provided you're not completely close-minded, this is one you'll remember for a long, long time.
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Not a Oxymoron! An intellectual action flick!
Monk-1714 April 1999
Runaway Train is about far more than a runaway train. It is about personal freedom and how hard we are willing to struggle to get it. It's about how willing we are to give up our personal freedom to be comfortable. It's about dehumanization inflicted by social institutions. It's also one gripping, suspenseful action-flick. The two main characters, played by Jon Voight as Manny and Eric Roberts as Buck, are escaped prisoners, but they are humanized. Not that we would really like to meet them, but we can see how they work, and we can identify with them. I found it fascinating that the character I really hated was John P. Ryan as Renkin, the warden. This official of society has turned his efforts to recapture the prisoners, particularly Manny, into a personal mission of hatred. The cinematography and imagery in the film are excellent. Whether exterior shots of the train hurtling across the desolate Canadian wilderness, or claustrophobic shots of the characters in the train, we are there and cannot help but be involved. There's not a bad performance in it. John Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay and John P. Ryan are all tremendous, with an intensity that matches the demands of the film. This is one of those few films that really disturbed me, that really caused me to think about my life. It is unforgettable. It is a great work of art.
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Simply magnificent - and that perfect ending too ...
andyhise4 May 2002

Has Jon Voight ever been better? No. Or Eric Roberts? No. And have you ever seen a more perfect, perfect ending ...?


Runaway Train's scene is set in a rather average prison sequence. But as soon as the guys break out, the fun begins - Eric Roberts' accent, the incredible feeling of cold, Manny's animal-like grunting (I think he was laughing) - and the pumping, spot-on soundtrack, raising goose-bumps beautifully as the train majestically appears through a thick flurry of snow like a ghost ...

One scene - Jon Voight's ".. and you gonna RUB that little biddy spot ..." monologue - is right out of the top drawer. And the rest is as efficient and nerve-shredding as you could ever want. Action (train crashes!!), blood (fingers!!), surprises, satisfying revenge - and an ending that, I'm sorry but I've got to go on about it a bit, is just simply breathtaking.

How I wanted the movie to end on that final shot, and how wonderful that it did, with the choir and everything. Superb - a gem. Just a gem. And what a surprise - from the marketing, the hype, even the video and DVD sleeve, you couldn't pick this out from 1000 other bottom shelf dwellers in the video shop. Just give yourself a treat and watch it.
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Strong contender for the best action movie of all time!
Infofreak2 February 2004
'Runaway Train' is a rare thing, an intelligent action movie, full of both exciting sequences and strong character development. This combination makes it all that much more suspenseful and powerful. For me it could well be the best action movie of all time. Interestingly enough it's based on a screenplay by Kurosawa, but criminal turned novelist Edward Bunker (who plays Jonah here but is best known to most people as Mr. Blue in 'Reservoir Dogs') gets the main writing credit. Jon Voight gives one of his very best performances as Manny, but Eric Roberts is also just great. Roberts is overlooked these days, making too many b-grade and straight-to-video movies to be taken seriously, but boy, back in the day this guy was GOOD! Check him out here, and in 'Star 80', and especially 'The Pope Of Greenwich Village' with Mickey Rourke. Roberts actually scored an Oscar nomination for 'Runaway Train'. Just why his career subsequently went in the direction it did is one of the great mysteries of Hollywood. Voight and Roberts are supported by Rebecca De Mornay, super tough guy John P. Ryan ('It's Alive') and well loved character actor Kenneth McMillan. Also keep an eye out for Danny Trejo in the boxing sequence towards the very beginning of the film. 'Runaway Train' is a movie I never tire of watching. The interplay between Voight and Roberts is wonderful to watch, the action sequences are breathtaking, and the ending is one of the all time greats!
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15 years later - one of the greatest movie you've never heard of
johnmoss12 October 1999
I remember being wowed by "Runaway Train" back in 1985 when it first came out. Seeing it again on DVD in 1999 reminded me of just how excellent a movie this really was. I recommend "Runaway Train" to anyone who wants a large portion of philosophical meat and meaning mixed in with gripping action and a solid story. In the 15 years since "Runaway Train" was first released, I can't think of a movie other than "The Matrix" that has combined so much action, tension, and a strong philosophy so successfully.

Chances are you've never heard of "Runaway Train." Amazing too. The movie was even based on a Akira Kurosawa screenplay and it shows. Jon Voight and Eric Roberts were at the top of their craft. In fact, both received well deserved Oscar nominations for very powerful performances.

It makes me sad to think that so few have had a chance to actually see this movie due to the sloppy studio backing and licensing turmoil born out of the collapse of the former Golon-Globus production studio. Surprise! Golon-Globus actually made at least one excellent movie outside of the their usual roster of shlock. But their poor reputation might have become so tarnished by that time that audiences didn't get a chance to know what they were missing. As a result, the movie rarely if ever gets airplay or any notice. Since the DVD was one of the very first DVD's to be released when the universe of DVD owners was measured in thousands not millions, it has once again fallen below the radar. Does a tree make a noise if it falls in a forest when there is no one around to hear it happen?

Maybe that was how "Runaway Train" became all but forgotten. If the title were to be reissued today in an SE package, I believe that a whole new generation of DVD viewers would be delighted to have this title in their collection. In the meantime it is worth seeking out for rental or purchase, you won't be disappointed.
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Konchalovsky crafts a memorable screen moment that reminded me the dramatic sequence of John Huston in Moby Dick…
Nazi_Fighter_David5 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Based on a screenplay by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, "Runaway Train" is bloody, intense and oppressive… It is a movie with arresting images about a notorious life term prisoner who has been welded in a hole for 3 years and a psychotic warden who practically hopes that his dangerous prisoner will make the first move, so that he can have an excuse to 'stop his clock.' The film takes place in the freezing landscapes of the Alaskan wilderness, and in a maximum security prison where the only escape is death…

Soon enough, Manny (Jon Voight) is on the loose along with another fellow prisoner, an unbalanced prizefighter called Buck (Eric Roberts), infected by Manny's madness… Their escape is a serious blow to the obsessive warden (John P. Ryan) who knows that his prison will be out of control if he fails to get them back…

Faced with certain death in the world's most inhospitable climates, Manny and Buck wind up on an unmanned train ignoring that its driver has suffered a heart attack, and the locomotive is rolling into something very fast…

Jon Voight completely embodies the brutal convict… The fierce intensity in his eyes, the ferocity in his voice, the hardness to withstand pain, these are indications of his madness… He has an injured hand, a scar around his eye, and a desire for revenge rooted deeply in his thoughts…

Though the movie is a character study of the dangerous inmate... We see the aftermath of Manny's last encounter with the warden... We don't get the opportunity to examine his mind or figure out what makes him so fiery... Just like Buck, we're looking at a man at war with world and everybody in it…

The film's centerpiece is the showdown between the warden and Manny... At this point it becomes clear that the warden's personal obsession overrides any human consideration… It is a thrilling show… Manny believes in nothing, and is capable of anything…

Andrei Konchalovsky depicts prison life with all the usual clichés: uptight guards, beatings, and murders… He does an admirable job of taking us into strange figures on a killer train… Konchalovsky crafts a memorable screen moment that reminded me the dramatic sequence of John Huston in Moby Dick…
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Next Stop, Destiny.
rmax30482310 May 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Bad original title there. It sounds as if Ben Johnson should be at the controls and Charles Bronson should be the expert who figures out how to save all the passengers except the nut-case villain, maybe Dennis Hopper, who expires along with all the machinery in an exploding fireball as the locomotive plummets from an open bridge into a ravine. But, nope.

Kurasawa was having his problems at the time he supervised the writing of this story and it was given over to Konchalavsky to direct. There aren't very many characters in the film. Mainly John Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca DeMornay (looking fresh faced, freckled, and quite attractive), with John Ryan thrown in mainly to provide a real flesh-and-blood living villain, in addition to the impalpable philosophical ones that are everyone's chief concern. Existentialism is one of those now practically-dead passing French intellectual fads, become a word now loosely thrown around that can mean pretty much anything you want. But in its original post-war form it had a rather specific definition, if you could distill it from Sartre and Camus. The main point was that existence precedes essence, meaning that you weren't born for any particular purpose -- good or bad -- and that you defined yourself through voluntary actions. The second point was that social rules meant very little and could be disregarded at will, as long as you were ready to accept the consequences of breaking those rules. This whole movie illustrates exactly those points in a symbolic, yet realistic and exciting way.

Voight and Roberts are introduced in a rather lengthy, suspenseful introduction set in a Northwestern prison run by Ryan. They escape by slipping naked through a long and filthy sewer pipe and are shot out through the air into a clear cold fast-running river. (Getting an anatomical allusion here?) They manage to steal some clothes and board the empty, second locomotive of a train whose sole engineer drops dead and falls off. (The engineer stands for Somebody, too, with a capital S. I hope you're getting all this.) Another passenger is discovered. Always nice to have a young woman around. But with nobody at the controls of the unreachable lead locomotive, and with its brakes burned out, the train begins to pick up speed. The three of them wind up stuck on a train rocketing in the general direction of nowhere and, try as they may, they have no influence over its course or speed. Worst of all, it's rapidly approaching a "dead end" (get that one?).

By means of ingenuity, sacrifice, and simple human doggedness the lead locomotive is uncoupled from the rest of the train. While the remaining cars slowly roll to a halt, the lone locomotive roars towards its finish. We don't see the expectable slow-motion drop and explosion for the simple reason that we don't need to. We already know the end is upon us -- I mean upon the "train." And the final image, of Voight standing alone atop this hurtling monster of speed, weight, and power, holding his arms upward in defiance, the air filled with huge flakes of wet snow, is finish enough. You don't need a fireball after that climactic shot.

I'm afraid I've made this movie out to be some sort of dumb, talky, too-long allegory -- but believe me, it's not. The simple narrative itself is riveting. I can hardly remember another movie in which the performers seemed so terribly cold and uncomfortable, wrapped in rags, caps pulled in an unsightly way around their ears, their faces flushed by the whistling wind, their fear and desperation so visible in everything they do, their failures and minor triumphs looming so pathetically large in the story. This train -- or the compartment of the locomotive, which is about all of the interior we see -- has no oysters on the half shell, nor a nice warm Franklin stove or any other source of heat. It's nothing more than cold, dull iron, and we are all aboard, bound for the end of the line. The musical score couldn't be more apt -- sustained, low, rumbling, elephantine -- a massive and powerful and inexorable chord.

What a gripping picture. How did Goldang Globus Hystericus ever manage to produce such a great film?
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Voight should have won the Oscar for that monologue alone
tbyrne413 December 2007
I remember watching this as a kid and thinking it was an incredibly powerful film, but i forgot how strong the performances are, particularly Voight's. Roberts is good, but he's basically playing second fiddle to Voight's hulking, frightening, feral, almost mythical Manny, a con so dangerous the warden has kept him in solitary confinement for three years straight.

Roberts is a younger convict who idolizes Manny and helps him escape from the Alaskan prison where they both reside. they end up on a train barrelling down the tracks at 90mph with no conductor and no way to stop it. The film is based on a screenplay by the legendary Akira Kurasawa.

Great action scenes. Muscular film-making. It just seems they don't make films like this anymore. Films that aren't trying to pander to a certain demographic. This is lean, mean action all the way.

And that "little biddy spot" monologue Voight has halfway through the film is really breathtaking. He should have won an Oscar for that alone.
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Very watchable, despite some flaws
kintopf43224 March 2005
"Runaway Train" is hardly a perfect film – as others have mentioned, there are plenty of things here that feel tacked on, implausible, or even ridiculous (the Captain Ahab of a villain risking his own life to destroy his enemy, the silly riot scenes in the prison, the over-the-top speechifying and florid epigraph at the end credits, etc., etc.). But surprisingly, we find ourselves left with an impression of overall integrity and intelligent artistry – quite the feat, considering the number of melodramatic or otherwise un-subtle elements in the mix. In particular, Jon Voight's hamminess gets to be a bit much, but Eric Roberts's twitchiness for once creates a character who seems vulnerable and likable (if still occasionally obnoxious). And Rebecca De Mornay is quite surprising, and shows herself to be a real actress despite the vamp roles in which she most often finds herself typecast. The pacing and the rhythm of the dialogue is somewhat odd, but rather than irritating or alienating us, it seems to ground the film in its own unique textural world. At its best, "Runaway Train" reminded me of "Night of the Living Dead" or another great people-trapped-in-a-little-room suspense film, and it's worth the effort for most viewers. 7.5 out of 10.
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One of my alltime favourites.
WardenRanken28 June 2003
This movie is just brilliant. The Oscar Mannheimer character has to be one of the hardest moviecharacters of alltime. I love the way Voight turns mental on numerous occasions, he's doing one hell of a job. Arguably his best ever role. Eric Roberts is almost as brilliant in portraying Buck. I find myself laughing at so many times during the course of this movie. It's not only funny though, it's also a movie of high suspense and some action. 10 out of 10. I say YEAH!
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Rule #1 for breaking out: Make sure you have a ride
dfranzen7028 February 2000
Manny and Buck have just broken out of prison and have stowed away on a four-car locomotive in Alaska. Problem is, the engineer died of a heart attack as the train was departing the station and fell off - so now they're all alone on this train, careening through the wilderness over 80 miles per hour, with no way to stop it. Sound like fun to you? It's a rare action movie, one that basically takes place on one location (the train). But it's amazingly suspenseful, too, as railroad officials (who don't know of their stowaways) try to find ways to stop the unstoppable vehicle (shades of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three"). Jon Voight plays Manny, the experienced jailbreaker, grizzled, ornery, obnoxious, but revered by his fellow prisoners. Eric Roberts plays Buck, the young, cocky, dimwitted tough guy who respects Manny and looks to him as the voice of reason. Also thrown into the mix is Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), a railroad worker who was taking a catnap when the runaway train started its journey. How will these three people stop the train? How, indeed! You know, for a movie taking place on a train, there are plenty of harrowing scenes, and there's hardly a dull or listless moment. Problem is, you don't really know who to root for, and there are spots late in the movie where characters change drastically, a sure casualty of a choppy script. But hey, why quibble? If you're looking for an unusual action movie, here it is!
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tedg17 February 2011
Having seen "Unstoppable," I had to see this.

It is hard to know what influence Kurosawa had on this, but one can guess. He had been through his rejection in Japan, suicide attempt and film made and financed by the Soviets. He subsequently arranged scant funding for this, started and was foiled. What we have now is supposedly completely reworked. But what we see is Soviet iconography in the trains and snow, and Shakespearean motion toward tragedy. (Kurosawa would do the Shakespearean "Ran" instead of this, and we are lucky for that.)

So this comment will not be on the acting, though Voight is not only superb, but inhabits the character as we fear we would. It is about the icons and the camera. I think we have inherited this from Akira.

The trains have been painted to be big flat black hulks, reshaped with plywood to resemble Soviet machines. We have a Soviet director. Early in the film, we have that train (four locomotives) hit the end of another, demolishing it. In the process, the front of our beast is turned into a ragged tear of heavy metal, racing madly through heavy snow, angry at the weather.

"Unstoppable" takes a few scenes from this: the hitting of the end of another train; the bridge that has the fatal speed limit; the "soldier" lowered from a chopper then pummeled. But it is an altogether different film. Scott is all about energy in the camera. Every scene moves in a dance that is composed. The rhythm and energy is in our eye. He works to give is narrative stances for that eye: TeeVee cameras, characters that are observers and others that comment on observation.

The train is only a prop, the characters only something to carry the narrative thrust. The art is in the eye, on our side of the wall.

This film has three animals: Voight's character, a convict driven to heroic madness, the opposing warden who is every bit as demented and colorful. Both of these are runaway trains, bested by the train itself which has agency of its own. It seems to have killed and ejected the engineer, enticed two convicts aboard, then gone mad, attracting the warden as well. It is "imprisoned" in a braid of rails, designed here to relate to the train as the remarkable prison building is to the humans.

All the cameras are static except the ones following the train, some of which race through the woods the same way we saw in "Rashoman."

It seems that like with "Star Wars," Kurosawa can bless a film by merely breathing on it.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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this unknown classic scores high on many levels
barrwell3 November 2010
Runaway train starts as a prison escape movie, it then becomes a high speed action thriller. In between and throughout it is also a philosophical character study and all these elements work together perfectly. I keep trying to think of reasons to give this a less than perfect score and can't think of one. This is film as art, for as entertaining and suspenseful as Runaway train is, it is metaphorically and visually a beautiful film and Jon Voight gives the performance of his career (was nominated for lead Oscar) as a brutal, savage multiple felon.

Runaway train is directed by Russian Andrei Konchalovsky, based on a screenplay by Kurasawa ("Seven Samurai") and takes place in Alaska, first in a high security prison, and later on the title train. Manny (Voight) is a long time con and multiple escapee who seems to like to play cat and mouse with the vindictive warden Rankin (John P. Ryan). As the film opens Manny is being released from a long stint in solitary after his latest escape attempt. Buck (Eric Roberts, nominated for supporting Oscar) is a young, slow-witted convict who idolizes Manny. Buck also is a boxer and works the laundry cart and Manny eventually is going to use Buck to assist in his latest escape.

Buck talks Manny into taking him along and the two break out into the icy Alaskan wilderness. The two escapees nearly freeze to death before finally reaching a rail hub where they find some dry clothes and whiskey. They find something else too; they find a train that Manny picks that is about to pull out. The train is their ticket to freedom, or so thinks Manny, but shortly after pulling out the trains conductor is seen having a heart attack and falling off the train. Luke and Manny are initially unaware of this and are surprised as the train hurdles faster and faster across the frozen landscape.

A stowaway is on the train (an almost unrecognizable Rebecca Demornay), and she has figured out what has happened and explains the situation to Luke and Manny. The two cons will attempt the dangerous climb to the front engine to shut the train down. Meanwhile, the local rail authorities also become aware of the dilemma and contemplate action...should they derail the train before it takes out an old bridge or an approaching factory? Also, Rankin has a helicopter in the air and is salivating at the thought of catching Manny again.

The stage is set for some amazing stunt work as well as some captivating dialog between the three people on the train. I've read some reviews that view Demornays character as nothing but a plot device but I see it differently. Sara is an outsider to Manny and Buck initially, however as the tension builds she becomes the moral centerpiece of the film, while Manny is slowly deteriorating mentally and physically and Buck is suddenly in the middle. Its almost heartbreaking to watch the scene where Bucks illusions about Manny melt away as he gradually becomes aware of Manny's true nature.

Again, the stunt work here is really something to behold and climaxes as Rankin is lowered by rope latter onto the catapulting locomotive for his final showdown with Manny. Now the two are face to face but this time Rankin has no guards and no bars to protect him. The tables have turned on Rankin and now he's in Manny's prison.

Its an incredible climax and the silent, mesmerizing final shot shows the power of someone who has nothing to lose. To me its one of the most unforgettable film images ever.

As Manny himself had said earlier after a frenzied and distraught Sara had screamed "what are you an animal"? - "no, worse...HUMAN"
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Riveting stuff
tomgillespie200212 February 2014
The next time I criticise an action movie for being brainless, only to be met by the response of "well, it is an action movie!", I'll refer them to Runaway Train, a breathless, thoroughly exciting action movie that manages to portray two fully three-dimensional characters amidst underlying sociological messages about imprisonment and reform. Developed from an un-filmed Akira Kurosawa script by Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel, and former hardened inmate Eddie Bunker, Runaway Train proves that action movies can do a hell of a lot more than blow s**t up and offer amusing one-liners.

Notorious convict Manny (Jon Voight) is released from three years in confinement by hateful warden Ranken (John P. Ryan) not just because of media pressure, but in the hope that he will try and escape so Barstow may kill him. After he is attacked and wounded, Manny makes the quick decision to escape his Alaskan confines, and does so with the help of the young and rather dumb Buck (Eric Roberts). They board a train, but unbeknown to them the engineer on board has died from a heart attack and the train is heading at high speed towards various obstacles. Ground-staff are alerted to the situation and quickly set about clearing the tracks, but Ranken has soon joined them with revenge in mind.

Many Hollywood movies offer moments of spectacular visual effects and sound design that should be applauded, but normally these scenes don't tend to generate any excitement in me. Runaway Train offers similar scenes, but there's two key aspects that make the film work so well. The first is emotional investment. As despicable as these characters often are, Manny and Buck are real, helped considerably by the career-best performances of Voight and Roberts. The former, in an empowering speech that may just be the best work he's ever done, informs Buck of the futility of their situation. They may just rule the world if they could hold down a job, but they can't, they're criminals, and cannot escape their societal role.

The appearance of Rebecca De Mornay's character Sara, a young engineer still aboard and who is unable to stop the train, highlights this. Manny and Buck squabble and fight for the first time in front of her, showing that when put into a situation where the laws of society come into play, they reject it and turn into animals. These exchanges occur between some nail-biting scenes, which brings me onto the next aspect that makes the film work so well - real action. There's no wide-shots of gigantic explosions, just two battered men clawing and slipping their way along the snow-drenched train. In one scene, after a daring attempt to jump carriages, Manny's wind and cold-battered face craws towards the camera, ragged bandages hang off his bloodied hand, and his crooked, brown teeth are bared. The camera is so intrusive that you really feel every move he makes, to the point where I felt exhausted.

Though it does occasionally slip in prison movie cliché, this is perhaps one of the most underrated films ever made. It was recognised at the Oscars with nominations for Voight, Roberts and for Best Editing, but it doesn't seem to have left the legacy it certainly deserves. I wouldn't exactly call the film obscure, but your average film-goer probably won't have heard of it, especially when compared to, say, Die Hard (1988). This is riveting stuff, tightly directed by Russian Andrei Konchalovsky (who went on to make the crappy Tango & Cash (1989)), and the film leaves you with an beautiful and slightly eerie final image that could say more than words could have.
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Runaway Train is about Freedom
forozco-124 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This wonderful film, as a good art, it can be interpreted saying much more that what their authors originally tried to say. With a simple beginning, its characters and plot, more related to action films (escaped prisoners that are catched within a train without control), finish developing metaphors on those great abstractions that are the ideas of Freedom, Determinism and Free Will. I exaggerate? Perhaps.

Previous to the book publication like "Freedom Evolves" by Daniel C. Dennett ("Our capacity of forecast helps us to surpass the evident determinism extending the margins of our freedom") and of unfortunate lives losses on the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (1986), for which this film seems its prologue: displaying a brief reflection with the images of the Challenger, showing it like which it was: One of the more complex and sophisticated pieces of technology never constructed, from the narrative of this film emerges the message that even with all our technology supporting our forecasts to control our future, can be insufficient to control the collisions of forces in conflict: The destructive fatality of one represents the redemptive freedom of other.

* * * SPOILER This is evident mainly in the skillful final sequence, with the protagonist, escaped from the prison and that apparently, has been left prisoner in a train that runs at full speed to his death. Nevertheless, being able to stop it, it chooses not to stop the locomotive: He is not a prisoner, in the free exercise of his will, allows it run at full speed. The runaway machine force is the force of his freedom, unstoppable, running towards the unknown.

What a masterpiece!
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First-rate cinematic story telling; a gem!
8-Foot23 July 2000
This is a gritty, totally dramatic, suspenseful, unhappy, sometimes foul-mouthed, drama in which several story elements converge and play out on a runaway string of four locomotive units. The acting of both Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, especially, and Rebecca De Mornay is intense and superb. Every camera shot heightens the drama. Photographed in Alaska on the Alaska Railway, it's winter, the skies are leaden, the ground snow covered, the locomotives ice encrusted, and real snow falls on the train as it traverses the isolated countryside. Action scenes of the train, both distant and close up, are truly remarkable. (Train enthusiasts will not be disappointed!)

The only thing phony is the suggestion that the Alaska Railway is a more complex system than it likely is. That quibble noted, everything else rings essentially true, and the filmmakers (thankfully) find no need to throw in a plethora of gratuitous complications, as occurs in so many lesser impending-disaster movies.

The story begins with two vicious antagonists in an Alaska prison. One, John Voight's character, convicted of violent crimes and prior escapes, has just won a court order for release from three years of being welded in his dark cell. The thwarted warden, played by John P. Ryan, is equally vicious, with even less of a heart than Voight, who loses no time before escaping again. Reluctantly, Voight takes along Roberts, as a younger, low-IQ, petty criminal with grandiose plans for his freedom. Voight is advised to not let himself be brought back alive.

Voight and Roberts make it to a railroad yard and into the last of the four locomotives. In the first, the engineer starts the train, has a heart attack and stumbles off the train. Voight realizes that the train is out of control when no horn sounds and after it hits a caboose that didn't clear the main track in time. Then DeMornay, having been napping forward, assesses the situation, and stumbles into the last unit for greater safety. In this confined setting there are dramatic scenes between the two men and among all three.

DeMornay, as a locomotive mechanic, advises that control resides only in the front unit and that because the number two unit is different (a streamliner), there is no passage to the front. She has a way to curb the train's excessive speed, which narrowly averts one crash opportunity, but it is still out of control. The control center can only shunt the runaway and other trains onto different tracks so as to postpone the inevitable crash and pick a location for least collateral destruction.

Meanwhile, the warden, after demonstrating his viciousness at the railroad control center, boards a helicopter and effects a transfer onto the moving train, reuniting the two antagonists in a face-to-face final confrontation as the train races to its impending demise.

The conclusion can't be happy, but it is nonetheless satisfying. --- Outstanding!!!
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One of a kind!
ChWasser13 September 1999
RUNAWAY TRAIN is one of only a few films which are so great that you'll like the people involved in it for the rest of their career regardless in which movies they appear in the future. Walter Hill's underrated STREETS OF FIRE did this to Willem Dafoe, Diane Lane and even Michael Pare while RUNAWAY TRAIN did the same to John Voight, Rebecca DeMornay and even Eric Roberts.

I find it interesting that a film written by a Japanese (Akira Kurosawa!) and directed by a Russian (Andrej Konchalowsky) which features American actors can be such a coherent masterpiece. Although the story is very simple there are deeper layers of meaning which have a lot to say about the human condition and which are so universal that everyone can read the metaphors. Truly an existential action-film!

RUNAWAY TRAIN is not only one of my favorite action-movies of all times but one of the greatest films ever in my opinion. And the famous "gold"-monologue by Manny is just so true!
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A film of rare power
ian_bell19 April 2010
An infamous prisoner, Manny (John Voight) has been incarcerated in a high security prison (somewhere in Alaska it seems).

The warder (John P Ryan) is resolved to break any man who dares to defy his brutal regime, while Manny believes he can prevail against anything which man, or indeed nature, can throw at him.

A dangerously edgy Eric Roberts is determined to share in the glory of Manny's bid for escape, but while our two protagonists seek to break the system, it seems fate, chance, life, call it what you will, has other ideas.

There is a surprise, and very welcome, appearance by a toned down Rebecca DeMornay, and strangely her performance is typical of the film. Nothing here is what it first appears.

An action thriller which ascends to something far greater and succeeds beyond expectation is filled with memorable performances. Roberts has never been better than as Buck, a glib, flash and impressionable young convict, both in awe of Manny, yet equally resentful of the way the older man treats him. As for Voight . . . well, make up your own mind. Angelina Jolie may make the headlines these days, but her dad was one hell of an actor in his day.

The scene where he counters Buck's grand plan of a trip to Las Vegas by urging the young man to find a job - any job - and work his way up to become president of the company is both moving and telling. It could have been rather worthy, yet it's anything but. Manny knows his own chances have gone; he is aware however there is a slim - albeit remote - chance for a young man like Buck to still make something of himself.

I was reminded while watching this film how quickly time can pass. As the train of the title thunders along the tracks - an allegory for life itself? - we are left wondering if any of this group can survive.

As the police close in and the hostility of the natural environment takes on a lethal grandeur, the battle of wills between Ranken (John P Ryan's memorably sadistic warder) and Manny turns from hunter and hunted to something approaching biblical proportions. The two men define each other. Ranken has to catch Manny to prove the system cannot be beaten, yet equally that very system from which Manny is running - prison - has turned him into the minor legend he is among his fellow cons.

It is no surprise to learn that Akiro Kurusawa is the man behind the original story. Note too, the presence of Edward Bunker as a screenwriter. A one-time criminal who has turned life on its head and found redemption through a rare talent for the written word. Manny would be proud of him.

RUNAWAY TRAIN is a film of rare power, which leaves its mark on your mind and your heart, all under the guise of an action thriller. Whoever would have thought it?
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One of the few genuinely excellent Golan-Globus productions - a tense, violent and exciting thriller.
barnabyrudge26 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
To see the words 'A Golan-Globus Production' on a movie poster in the '80s was not usually a sign of good quality cinema. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were a pair of Israeli cousins who had financed various films in their homeland throughout the '60s and '70s before deciding to have a crack at the American market by purchasing a distribution and production outfit called the Cannon Group, Inc. Around 85% of Golan- Globus's Canon output was low-grade, trashy rubbish, more often than not badly made and badly acted. Every now and then, however, a Golan-Globus film would turn up that was a little better than the usual fare. Something slightly more artistically motivated and more high-brow in conception. Into this bracket would fall films like the Julie Andrews vehicle Duet For One, Jean Luc Godard's adaptation of King Lear, or the exciting existential thriller Runaway Train , directed by celebrated Russian film-maker Andrei Konchalovsky during his 'break-into-the- American-mainstream' phase.

Runaway Train is notable for two remarkable leading performances from Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. Voight plays Manny Manheim, a notoriously violent bank robber serving a life sentence in a remote Alaskan maximum security prison. Manny is a legend amongst the other inmates, an almost animalistic criminal considered so dangerous that at one point the warden, Ranken (John P. Ryan), had his cell door welded for a period of three years. Once allowed back into general population, Manny plans an audacious escape aided by none-too-bright inmate Buck (Eric Roberts) whose position as a laundry room worker gives him access to a potential escape route. Against Manny's wishes, Buck decides to join in him in daring break for freedom. Unfortunately for them, they seek refuge aboard a train during their getaway only for the elderly engineer to suffer a heart attack at the controls. Through an accumulation of unforeseeable coincidences, the emergency break system on the train fails and the two escaped convicts find themselves aboard a runaway train, gathering momentum as it surges unmanned and out-of-control across the Alaskan wilderness. An inexperienced hostler, Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), is the only other person on board. Together the three of them fight against the power of technology (the train) and the power of nature (the harsh Alaskan conditions) as they try to regain control of the train.

Violent, bloody, sharply characterised and frequently very exciting, Runaway Train may well be the jewel in the Golan-Globus crown. It's a tough film for sure – peopled mainly by ugly characters who do little more than snarl and threaten each other in abrasive, foul-mouthed exchanges – but it's never anything less than enthralling. The strength of characterisation is impressive. Voight's terrifying convict; Roberts' dumb but loyal opportunist escapee; De Mornay's vulnerable unwilling participant; Ryan's sadistically over-zealous warden – all fabulously written characters, played to the hilt by actors in top form. In one unforgettable scene, Voight attempts to uncouple the cars to stop the back section of the train – the couplings close over his hand, literally tearing off almost all his fingers in a shocking spray of pulpy gore. Still grinning maniacally, his hand a bloodied stump, Manny struggles back aboard and continues to terrorise his travelling companions. He's every bit as chillingly convincing as, say, Robert De Niro in the Cape Fear remake, a role that has striking similarities. The location is unusual and effective – the vast, freezing wilds of Alaska provide a perfect backdrop for the drama on-screen, enhanced further still by Trevor Jones's atmospheric score. The film's unrelentingly ugly tone and a strangely pretentious ending are minor quibbles, but overall Runaway Train is a thunderingly good film.
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etchison916 June 2000
This film does not intend to speak about prisoners, prison guards, trains, or violence. It is about the human soul. One should pay close attention to the ending. That's where this movie all comes together. The ending to this movie is my favorite ending of all movies. A perfect 10.
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..a frightening, wonderful movie..
fimimix27 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those movies that you must not take your eyes from the screen the first time you see it. Witness the decadence of the prison; the brutality of the warden (but he's telling the truth); the prison-escape, the filth the cons must go through to do it; their brief high of actually being on the way out of Alaska (they think); the complete naiveté of the first "railroad-center"-scene and the criminal politics therein; the cons' realization they are on a runaway train; how their personalities change; the insanity of the warden's attempt to recapture the cons; and the riveting ending, that you actually don't see........ be smart and don't look for "goof"s nor surprising reactions and implausible incidents - of which are plenty - just get lost in this movie, then watch it again to sort it out.

Although there is a lot of it, this certainly is not an "action" movie: it's a fairly believably harsh prison-setting and a narration of what human beings will do to attempt to gain "freedom", when the freedom is worse than being imprisoned. There is no good reason for any of this insanity, either in the plot (script) by Edward Bunker nor graphic direction by Andrei Konchalovsky. You have to rely upon their imagination and the wonderful cinematography - it is highly implausible that anyone has every lived-through this kind of brutality to tell about it. I hope. It is imminently important for the viewer to know that "Manny" (Jon Voight) has been welded in his cell for three years; that everyone looks up to him for his physical strength and wildness; that he only has nine months to go; a maniacal warden (John Ryan) wants him to "screw-up" so he can shoot him; that the entire prison is constantly in a riotous upheaval; and anyone who even THINKS they could successfully do any of this in 35-below-zero weather NEEDS to be welded into a cell, if they were lucky.

We all are aware that humans cannot survive in below-freezing weather and water, yet "Manny" and "Buck" (Eric Roberts, in a fabulous performance) get naked in the bowels of the prison to smear themselves with some "nasty stuff" and wrap themselves in plastic sheeting, the theory to keep their body-heat in and the plastic from freezing to their skin. Guess what: it works, although they tromp through the prison's sewers and then jump into an icy stream, "Buck" not even having shoes, gloves, a hat nor warm clothing, then trudges through miles of snow-storms to the railroad-terminal. So many improbabilities in these scenes it's mind-boggling: no frozen clothes nor frost-bite? Anyway they get there, find some things they need and choose a train to get on, simply because "Manny" thinks it's looks like a monster. He's right. They become part of it, because there's no way to get off it but to jump in the snow. Although "Manny" is godlike to "Buck", they become snarling animals. After a thorough beating by "Manny", "Buck" says "you were my hero"....hmmmmmm......"Sara" (Rebecca deMornay) does instill a trifle of humanity in them......but barely.

If that isn't enough of the story to get you hooked nor scare you away, watch the movie and then try to shake yourself out of the stupor you get into, and analyze the whole thing. It won't be easy. This is not sci-fi - these are all incidences that COULD happen. Some think this vicious role is Voight's best - good acting, but too crude. Robert's career should have vaulted from his performance; deMornay was great. All the supporting roles are stellar. The psychologies premises in this movie are devastating and make you say "this is only a movie", like a bad dream. This is desperation and insanity at its highest intensity - I hope it stays light-years away from me. Another film I have to put on, then hide behind my computers to watch. Terrifying and pointless - but, that's what good acting is all make it believable. Maybe I'll watch it again in a couple of years. Bravo! to all - a definite 10.
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yousonuva12 October 2003
That about sums up this vile train wreck. Absurdly maniacal characters only made worse by cheesy dialog. The whole thing feels like a parody of itself and expects you to hate every player by the way they scream and yell at each other over every little dumb plot-hole in every numb minded scene.

Only good points are the music, which so outweighs the script it makes you a bit sad to see it so wasted, and the action cinematography shows the racing train pretty well. Not to be confused with the camera work (especially in the control headquarters) where the camera goes wild on unnecessary close-ups without any good aim.

Some of the plot-holes: No radio communication; Use of a ladder from a moving helicopter instead of a harness (which of course kills a guy); A train traveling at 80mph on an icy track with no brakes would not stop in under 2 minutes (though it seems to stop in 10 seconds here). And many more subtle goofs that all around p***ed me off.

Good idea (Voight and Roberts aren't too bad it's just the script/direction) that is ruined by elementary to insane dialog and direction. Hated that balding, screaming control gut btw. I wanted to scream back!
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Above-average cast, good story, outstanding cinematography
laszlo-057003 September 2017
Indeed a fine piece, from the era when action movies were taken over by the likes of Schwarzenegger or Stallone. But the production company seemed to completely ignore this fact, and have chosen to base their movie on an old Akira Kurosawa screenplay. Risky choice, but as we know it didn't paid off - it was the last Northbrook film, and the Cannon-Golan companies didn't last much longer either. So Runawy Train might have been a financial failure, but I'd call it an artistic success. The technical specs doesn't show that it was shot on some kind of special equipment, but the way they captured the snowy landscape is still a masterpiece. If someone appreciates this kind of detail, it's definitely a must-watch movie (in the digitally renewed version, if possible). Otherwise the story is good too - not as much action, craziness and twists as in other 80s productions, but it has a tasty outcome between the good guy and the bad guy - probably Kurosawa would have done it better, but I really can't blame the directors for every little mistake. The last strong point of this movie is probably the cast, however - some might find Eric Roberts and a few supporting actors a bit irritating sometimes. Anyways, Jon Voight is at his best here. Unfortunately, other aspects of the movie seemed to be rather mediocre - very generic music choices, dull stunts and decorations, strange cuts. But those only play a minor part in the big picture, so I can recommend Runaway Train to anybody, who's just after a little entertainment.
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