I always had a bit of a liking for trains. A certain nobility about a big engine traversing the land, carrying cargo, people or both. It has also been a great provider of employment down the years, or at least it used to be. In this, Tony Scott’s last feature film, we are treated to a high-octane but plausible critique on the state of freight train commerce in recession-hit America. Once again it’s a dark day for the white collar shills.
Denzel Washington plays Frank, a widowed locomotive driver coming up on nearly thirty years of duty, soon to be made redundant as a new company merger forces out older staff. His sidekick here, conductor Will Coulson played by Chris Pine is a more recent recruit, having joined an ailing company at the wrong time, hoping that he can make a good impression and survive the cull.
The setting is in Pennsylvania, by way of Scranton and other cities that keep the engine room of America glowing.
In a well-flagged move, a burly dope by the name of Dewey takes his eye off his linesman duties and a train carrying a large payload of toxic fuel gets away from him and his bumbling partner. They are unable to rectify their error and the train gets away on full power. We now have the title of the film.
As it gathers speed, the man in the editing suite tries to keep pace, jumping manically from engine room to operations room, to boardroom. There are multiple local news channels documenting the event as helicopters fly just above the train, none of which are able to offer any assistance but are still well able to photograph the impending tragedy. Such is life.
There is a chief welder, Ned Oldham who pops in the B-team role. He and his ill-advised ponytail will eventually make a vital intervention but in the interim, we are treated to some classic male bonding between Washington and Pine as they lament lost women and soon to be lost jobs. They are occasionally interrupted by Rosario Dawson, who plays the earnest, open-minded yardmaster. She is never too far away to remind them of how close they are getting to catching the runaway train, offering words of encouragement without sounding totally helpless.
This all could fall on its ass rather easily in the wrong hands, or indeed with a budget normally associated with True Movies type fare. Here, however, we are well covered, there is an impressive scope to the entire production. Notably too, Tony Scott, he of Top Gun, he of Crimson Tide, knows exactly how to draft an action movie graph. All the peaks are in the right place.
It is very sad that he is no longer with us. Rumours persisted for a while about his death. In time, brother Ridley disclosed that his sibling had been fighting a long and frustrating battle with cancer and wanted to go out on his own terms.
What he left behind, apart of course from a broken hearted family, was a body of work that is hugely impressive in retrospect. Compared again to his brother, he might easily be dismissed as a reliable but uninspired filmmaker. Top Gun was undoubtedly the big one. Among others, we had Days of Thunder, True Romance, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Domino, Deja Vu. Very few of his films were disappointments. So perhaps the reliable tag is fair.
With this film, the last one released before his death( others followed posthumously) I believe he went out on a high. Definitely recommended.