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Film / Runaway Train

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Eddie: Hey, Barstow. Why don't you stop her? You put the system in. Cost the company 4.5 million.
Barstow: Listen, Eddie. This system is designed for the efficient dispatching of trains when manned, not to stop them when they're unmanned. The brake shoes have burned off. The over-speed control must have gotten screwed up from the collision!

Runaway Train is a 1985 action thriller film directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, adapted from a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa.

The film tells a tale of two convicts, Manny (Jon Voight) and Buck (Eric Roberts), who escape from an Alaskan prison and stow themselves away on a train. Unfortunately, the engineer dies at the throttle and their ride to freedom becomes a brakeless runaway train. While the train races across the snow-covered landscape, they come across remaining railroad worker Sara (Rebecca De Mornay) who warns them that the track they're on leads to certain doom. The three of them now must work to either stop or slow the train. Complicating things are the railroad company looking to derail the train before it causes any casualties along the line, and ruthless prison warden Ranken (John P. Ryan), who holds a grudge against Manny and quickly figures out where his two escaped convicts have gone...


This film has the examples of:

  • Berserk Button: Relying on dreams and such seems to be one for Manny.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The audience doesn't see Manny and Warden Rankin dying on the final engine, which races into the snow-covered horizon as images of sullen-faced prisoners — except for Manny's older brother, who smiles — cross the fading screen.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Manny in a scenery-chewing speech telling Buck about the futility of dreams and how men like them will end up in nowhere jobs suffering indignities.
    Manny: I'll tell you what you gonna do. You gonna get a job. That's what you gonna do. You're gonna get a little job. Some job a convict can get, like scraping off trays in a cafeteria. Or cleaning out toilets. And you're gonna hold onto that job like gold. Because it is gold. Let me tell you, Jack, that is gold. You listenin' to me? And when that Man walks in at the end of the day. And he comes to see how you done, you ain't gonna look in his eyes. You gonna look at the floor. Because you don't want to see that fear in his eyes when you jump up and grab his face, and slam him to the floor, and make him scream and cry for his life. So you look right at the floor, Jack. Pay attention to what I'm sayin', motherfucker!
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  • Cool Train: Clearly goes without saying, but the train is absolutely menacing in its full movie makeup. Thankfully, the entire train (or the locomotives that made up its consist) all survive in various degrees of preservation.
  • Determinator: Manny.
    • The train itself refuses to be slowed by any means, slamming through obstacles as though possessed.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Yardmaster Pulasky picks up fragments of the glowing hot brake shoes that burned off the runaway and also melted a steaming hole in the snowbank where they landed. He regrets it pretty quickly.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Manny. Pulled off the stunt that the whole film had been building up to, saving two lives and giving the biggest "fuck you" to the Warden that he can, he goes into the great unknown with a big smile on his face.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The sequences inside the jail take place over several days. Once Manny and Buck break out of jail, the rest of the film takes place over, at most, twelve hours. Once they board the train, the action takes place nearly in Real Time.
  • Fan Boy: Buck worships the ground Manny walks on. Gets a little disillusioned when Manny's viciousness becomes apparent as they work on stopping the train.
  • Failsafe Failure: Al, the train's engineer suffers from a heart attack. In attempting to stop the train and get off, he does not set the throttle to Idle, instead engaging the brakes, before collapsing off the still-moving train. This overrides the engine's automatic train stop. And consequently, although the brakes apply, the locomotives overpower them, and the brake shoes burn off.
  • Filth: Porn mags provide distractions on two points.
  • Fingore: Manny gets half of his left hand crushed by the train's knuckle coupler.
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!: Manny's character in a nutshell.
  • Heel Realization: Manny reaches this upon seeing Buck's disgust and sadness at his own savageness in trying to kill the young man who idolzed him. Buck informs him he's worse than Ranken, who is at least forthcoming with his brutality as warden, but Manny was adored by the inmates and seen as their hero. Manny collapses on the floor in a fatalistic slump.
  • Hellhole Prison: Stonehaven pulls double duty as this and as The Alcatraz. In Buck's description "its a shithole", the maximum security prison is run-down and in the middle of nowhere. With temperatures below 30, even if you somehow escape, the cold climate will end you. Only two other men managed to break out once (three including Buck), but Manny as of the film beat Rankin three times. Needless to say, the warden is pissed and wants the bank robber dead.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Manny makes the jump onto the main train engine, at the cost of half his hand. He defeats Rankin and traps him on the engine, and then goes back out and decouples the engine from the rest of the train, sparing Buck and Sara's lives before climbing onto the engine's roof and finishing the ride somewhere off the horizon. It's left to the viewer to determine if Manny was doing it to spare Buck and Sara or defy the warden's expectations.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Manny sees things this way, as evident from this exchange:
    Sara: You're an animal!
    Manny: No, worse! Human. Human!
  • I Die Free: With Ranken his prisoner now, Manny in the end, is in control of the runaway engine. The locomotives are approaching the end of the abandoned spur, crashing through a disused tunnel. Ranken orders Manny to shut down the engine, which he refuses for he'd rather achieve freedom in death.
  • Improvised Weapon: Manny beats up Rankin with a fire extinguisher.
  • Irony: Rankin's threat to 'send you out of here in plastic' Guess what's used to help them survive the cold...
  • It Has Been an Honor: Manny uncouples the lead engine, and waves goodbye to Buck, over the man's screaming pleas. Its especially tearjerking as all this happens to the music of the second movement of Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria" in D.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Barstow is a condescending tech-savvy sexist prick, but he's quick to remind Eddie that they're going to lose the three lives abroad the runaway, and despairing at their failure by the ending.
  • Just Train Wrong: Though not as bad as your average action movie.
  • Meaningful Name: Manny.
  • Mêlée à Trois: Manny, Buck and Sara tend to be at each other throats with the balance of power shifting between the three. This is even while they're working together to stop the train.
  • Morton's Fork: Barstow is ultimately presented with this. The runaway is approaching a tight curve adjacent to a chemical plant. Even at its reduced speed its more than likely to derail and crash into the plant causing a catastrophe spill. His hand forced by Eddie, he has choose the option with the least collateral damage, by sending the train onto a disused spur, condemning all on-board to certain death.
  • Murphy's Law: Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, though for Manny this works out just perfectly.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: Manny is resolved to never end up back in Stonehaven.
  • Nightmare Face: Well, from a technological viewpoint, rather than a biological one. The four old locomotives look rather sad, rusting and neglected for the first portion of the film, especially the lead engine. As they run out of control, colliding with obstacles in their path, they become more damaged and twisted, until eventually the 1st locomotive's front looks evil. It starts to resemble a vicious wild animal, and the debris its tusks.
  • Oh, Crap!: The signal maintainer at Jordan is frantic trying to abort the order to derail the train, and it's practically on top of him.
  • Prison Riot: The film opens with prison holding the convicted main character in a state of riot.
  • Runaway Train: Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Scenery Porn: The cinematography here, is just fantastic. The runaway barreling through the Alaskan frozen wasteland during the middle of winter is amazing to watch unfold.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The closing quote. "No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast."
  • Straw Nihilist: What Manny increasingly becomes over the course of the film. He gives his fair share of Despair Speeches ridiculing anyone's beliefs in hope, miracles, faith or living any unrealistic dream incompatible with reality. Rankin taunts him abroad the runaway approaching the end of line, that he'll burn in Hell for this. All Manny does is smile and scoff at the statement, that's all the audience needs to know, just how absurd he thinks any belief in the afterlife is. The ultimate icing-on-the-cake he delivers that cements his nihilism is his line "Win, lose, what's the difference?" at their current situation as the train's about to crash.
  • Tragic Monster: Manny genuinely wished he could do demeaning jobs like cleaning toilets for a living, instead of his dead-end road in violent crime and robbing banks.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Rankin. Granted, Manny is mentioned (and then shown) to be an escape artist and a violent thug, but Rankin himself is a Rabid Cop that welded Manny's solitary confinement cell shut (and felt content to have managed to keep him inside for three years before the court forced him to cut it open), arranged for other prisoners to try (unsuccessfully) to kill Manny, and violently strong-arms a train technician to tell him where the runaway train is so he can give it chase personally.
  • Worthy Opponent: Manny and Rankin. Also covers The Only One Allowed to Defeat You.

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