Monday, April 21, 2014

Last Passenger: Going Express

Driving is the American way to commute. It suddenly does not look so bad for a handful of Brits trapped on a runaway train. The end of the line looms ominously in Omid Nooshin’s surprisingly spry thriller Last Passenger (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Lewis Shaler tries to be a conscientious single father, but the demands of his emergency room practice often tax his young son Max’s patience. They are headed home from London on a redeye express, so Dr. Shaler can perform an emergency operation. At least they have a volunteer to help them pass the time. There might even be a halting attraction brewing between Shaler and the charming Ms. Sarah Barwell.

Unfortunately, events will interrupt them when Shaler starts to suspect something is amiss. Initially, nobody wants to get involved in matters like the disappearance of the porter. However, when the train starts blowing through scheduled station stops they quickly start to care. It turns out a mystery man has barricaded himself in the control room and disabled the emergency brakes. Of course, the outside authorities are slow to react, but it hardly matters. This is a diesel train, so there is nothing they can do to cut the power.

Perhaps transportation safety engineers could poke dozens of holes in Nooshin and Andrew Love’s screenplay, but its internal logic holds together pretty well for mere mortals. Obviously, there is a massive ticking clock counting down in the background, but the quiet moments work just as well. Nooshin vividly captures the eerily detached vibe of a late night train whooshing through nocturnal blackness. The mix of personality types and tics amongst Shaler’s fellow passengers also nicely follows in the tradition of great train suspense stories, going all the back to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.

Dougray Scott has become something of an overlooked leading man since the days of Ever After and MI: 2, but he anchors the film with understated strength and sensitivity. He definitely comes across as the sort of surgeon who would inspire confidence in patients. He also develops some relaxed but convincing chemistry with Kara Tointon’s Barwell. The supporting cast also feels right, particularly Iddo Goldberg (in a complete change of pace from Kat Coiro’s And While We Were Here) as an Eastern European immigrant transit worker.

Obviously, the question of who would do such a thing is hard to ignore, despite the narrative’s considerable tension. Nooshin & Love suggest (and never refute) a hypothesis that evades hot button ideological issues, but might be even more disturbing for what it implies regarding human nature. Regardless, they keep the train hurtling down the track. Frankly, there is something refreshingly old school about the smaller scope and corresponding emphasis on character. Recommended with unexpected affection for general thriller audiences, Last Passenger opens this Friday (4/25) in New York.