Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Last Passenger (2013) - FilmReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Train wreck or The Orient Express?

Alfred Hitchcock fans will likely find a delicious slice of drama in this suspenseful independent British thriller directed by Omid Nooshin - starring Dougray Scott ("The Day of the Triffids", "Doctor Who"), Kara Tointon ("Eastenders"), Iddo Goldberg ("Christopher and His Kind"), David Schofield ("Gladiator", "Pirates of the Caribbean"), Lindsay Duncan ("Rome", "Doctor Who") and Joshua Kaynama. And having discovered this thanks to an interest in Tointon after seeing her in an episode of "Bedlam" (2011), I just have to say that this is one train journey I will not forget in a hurry...

So what is it about? Well, put simply, six passengers are left onboard a London commuter train that has been hijacked by a sociopath, whose own motives are far from clear though his intention is to crash and kill himself and everyone on board. The use of a faceless enemy works well, as it has done in past movies such as "The Car" (1977) and "Joy Ride" (2001). The runaway train theme is not an original concept (I am reminded of Andrei Konchalovsky's 1985 action-thriller and aptly-named, yes, "Runaway Train") but the way in which this movie is executed gives it a rather intriguing and fresh approach whilst maintaining something familiar - the film's focus on characterisation benefits the plot, permitting us to care about the people whose very lives are placed in jeopardy.

And this certainly shows best in the on-screen relationship between eight-year-old Kaynama and Scott, who play young Max and his father Doctor Lewis Shaler. Add to this Tointon's beautiful performance as fellow passenger Sarah Barwell and you have the perfect family unit whose uncertain fate draws ever nearer...

Every actor works well to bring this drama firmly into the realms of enjoyable entertainment. If proof be needed that a small cast can make a satisying movie, then look no further than "Last Passenger", whose direction steers every moment with purpose - no scene is wasted as it becomes clear just who is in charge of the train. Director Nooshin described it as "being trapped in the Belly of the Whale", and there is no doubt that such a claustrophobic experience both brings dramatic actions and tests the humanity and bravery of others. Though there is much tension between Jan Klimowski (Goldberg) and Peter Carmichael (Schofield) at first, their mutual realisation that difference must be overcome if they are to survive does manage to win through! However, just how do you escape an out-of-control transport?

It is very satisfying to see that writers Nooshin and Andrew Love resisted any temptation to rely on blood and gore, instead giving us a much more intelligent and emotional tale: the casting strengthens what is already on paper. This is no slasher film, staying clear of any similarities to horror outings "Terror Train" (1980) or "Train" (2008). To be too critical of the movie or its plot is unwarranted, though some reviewers have criticised the lack of information regarding the "madman". I, however, applaud this direction, for a faceless enemy is a far more terrifying one, whose motives are, at the time of incident, unknown. And so, it is to the last passengers that we, the audience, turn and support, as they attempt to avoid almost certain death.

Nooshin had commented, "LAST PASSENGER began life as a daydream which absorbed me whilst sitting on a London 'slam door' train. The daydream revolved around the simplest premise: what happens if this train doesn't stop?" And with a budget of only £500, a trailer was produced, gaining interest from film studios. In the end, a "shoestring" budget of £1.5m was invested into the project. As the director added in an interview, "...the last movie set on a train was 'Unstoppable' which was $100m (£61m)."

No surprise then that Nooshin had been nominated for the Douglas Hickox Award (Directorial Debut) in The Moët British Independent Film Awards, though he finally lost out to Paul Wright, whose own drama "For Those in Peril" focused on Aaron, the sole survivor of a mysterious fishing accident. In all honesty, "Last Passenger" is the perfect directorial debut, tense with enough explosive charm to satisfy 97 minutes. Mention must also be given to Irish composer Liam Bates, whose score is truly powerful and gripping, evoking the feel of a golden era while echoing the growing tension in the feature - the perfect choice when you consider his other work on such films as "Ghostwood" (2006).

I am going to admit something now: though it was to be a predictable occurrence, the scene at the level crossing shocked me, I had not expected it to be as so well-realised and was glad that the victims remained faceless. But it did have my heart beating like a runaway train, I can tell you - a true cinematic moment! The last time I felt this way about a single scene was during a viewing of the passenger aircraft disaster in "Die hard 2" (1990), and the department store bombing in "Nighthawks" (1981).

I am not one for being too concerned over the use of clichés in film, for the overall voice is of far more importance in my opinion, what a plot has to say in terms of who the characters are and where they are in their lives at that point in time, and how they react to a given situation. For one hour and forty minutes we share the screen with six interesting characters, three of whom I have taken to my heart: Sarah (Tointon), Lewis (Scott) and Max (Kaynama).

Purchase Last Passenger from the Store:
DVD - Blu-ray - Running time: 100 minutes