A small group of everyday passengers on a speeding London commuter train battle their warped driver who has a dark plan for everyone on-board.
In 1971, Steven Spielberg gave the world “Duel”, a film about a business commuter who is pursued and terrorized by a malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer. The whole movie is about the man being followed and menaced, for no apparent reason until the very end, when the truck (and its never-seen driver) meet their demise. Spielberg had the boldness and the fearlessness to never show the driver’s face or indeed explain what his motivation was and this was a huge part of why the movie worked and it was this film that set him on his way to the movie stratosphere. Oddly enough, four years later, he would introduce the world to another mysterious antagonist in “Jaws”, a movie, comparable to “Duel”, where we see very little of the aggressor until the end of the movie.
The director of “Last Passenger”, Omid Nooshin, must have idolized Spielberg in his heyday because his film is very evocative of “Duel”. I have to admit, it’s been a long time since I literally sat and watched a movie where I spent half of it biting my nails. Granted, this is an everyday indulgence for me but by the time the film was over, I realized I had no more nails left to chew on. In the film, it is late evening and it is Christmastime. Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott) and his young son Max (Joshua Kaynama) have just boarded the last train from London to their home in the country. Along the way, Lewis meets a beautiful woman, Sarah (Kara Tointon) and they begin to chat. When Lewis’ stop arrives, instead of slowing down, the train picks up momentum and speeds through the station.
When Lewis tries to pull the emergency brakes, nothing happens. The other four remaining passengers are not alarmed because sometimes these things happen but when the train races through their corresponding stops, they become concerned. It’s only when they find the dead body of the train’s ticket inspector, that they know something is wrong. After several failed attempts to break into the driver’s impenetrable compartment, they try calling the police to make them aware of the situation. The police inform them that they are doing everything they can but Lewis reminds them that pretty soon, there’ll be no track left at all. With time operating against them, the passengers must pull all their resources together and formulate a plan before it’s too late.
The first half of the movie takes its time setting up the story and introducing us to our six passengers. Most thrillers and action films today overlook that small essential element called ‘character development’, the one that invites your audience to identify and care about the characters, instead, they’d rather just start with the biggest explosion and throw some characters in the mix and expect us to care about them without knowing anything about them. In that case, the film will always fail but here thankfully, none of the characters are typically cliched. Naturally, this being a disaster movie means we do have some bickering back and forth between them but those scenes don’t last long as everyone works together so that they can devise a way out of this nightmare.
Dougray Scott has natural onscreen charisma. Even as the main bad guy in “Mission Impossible II”, it was very difficult to really hate him because he was so damn charming. Here, Mr. Scott is the thinking man’s hero. Every decision he makes, he makes with his son in mind and that’s some selflessness that you don’t see much of today. The remaining cast, especially David Schofield, are solid throughout and you find yourself hoping that none of them will die off, as is the norm in a disaster movie. Director Omid Nooshin has crafted a first-rate, edge-of-your-seat thriller that would make Hitchcock proud and I give him extra kudos for the fact that the film takes place in England instead of the United States, ala “Silver Streak”, “Runaway Train” and “Unstoppable”. Highly recommended.
In theaters April 25th
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