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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.

The film tells a tale of two convicts, Oscar "Manny" Manheim (Jon Voight) and Buck McGeehy (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 was originally supposed to be directed by Akira Kurosawa as his English-language debut. It didn't happen (and Kurosawa never directed an English-language film), and over 20 years rolled by before it was made. Kurosawa got a story credit. As well, legendary crime author and ex-convict Edward Bunker wrote the final draft of the script, as well as playing a minor role as a prisoner.

This film has the examples of:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Buck and Manny escape from prison through one.
  • Affably Evil: Buck. In contrast to Manny, Buck is a friendly, upbeat dimwit who doesn't seem to have a mean bone in his body and makes an effort to comfort Sara, which makes the reminders he's an unrepentant rapist all the more startling.
  • Bad Boss: Zigzagged with MacDonald. On the one hand he couldn't care less Al died of a heart attack, but on the other dislikes anyone trying to be a Professional Butt-Kisser round him and has to repeatedly remind Frank the runaway's going to potentially kill many people if he can't or won't stop it. He's smart enough to know Ranken isn't someone to be messed with, and tried to warn Barstow not to piss him off.
  • Berserk Button: Relying on dreams and such seems to be one for Manny.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Jonah savagely stabs to death a convict whom Ranken coerced into attacking his younger brother Manny.
  • Big "WHAT?!": When Dave, who's still reading his porn mags, realizes Yardmaster Pulasky is trying to warn Barstow they have a runaway.
  • Black and Nerdy: Dave's mannerisms, dress and intelligence have a little of this.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The audience doesn't see Manny and Warden Ranken 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.
  • Broken Bridge: The front door of the streamlined second engine that gives easy access to the lead engine is jammed following the collision, the alternative is a near-suicidal Outside Ride.
  • Broken Pedestal: The other prisoners and especially Buck saw Manny as a hero because of how easily he undermined their vicious tyrant of a warden. It's only when Buck decides to personally partner with Manny on his latest escape that he realizes just how vicious and brutal the man he idolized actually is. Despite this, Buck is still devastated when Manny opts to sacrifice himself in the end to kill Ranken.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Barstow and MacDonald feel a great deal of responsibility about choosing the option with the train that will endanger the fewest people.
  • 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!
  • Contrived Coincidence: What gets most of the plot rolling. The engineer of the train Manny and Buck have stowed away on just so happens to get a heart attack moments after starting the train.
  • 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 does not plan on going back to prison for a third time, and he'll make sure his escape sticks even if it kills him. It most assuredly does by the end.
    • The train itself refuses to be slowed by any means, slamming through obstacles as though possessed.
    • Ranken is a villainous version, pursuing the prisoners over terrain his fellow pursuers doubt they could have reached and even trying to board a train that's going to crash with them on it anyway in order to kill them.
  • Disposable Pilot: Al the train's engineer, has a sudden cardiac arrest moments after he started it up in notch 8, disembarks the still-moving train. The foreman's on scene, but he's already dead.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Manny's an Anti-Hero at best and a violent thug at worst, but he cares about his brother Jonah who refused to escape with him as he's too old.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Barstow tells MacDonald if they save the chemical plant by sending the runaway onto the Elkins disused spur, they would run out of track in 15 minutes. Sure enough, that's how long they have before the movie ends.
  • 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.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Dave has to warn Frank the speeding train is heading towards the Seneca trestle, and it can't take the runaway going that fast.
  • 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.
    • Manny tries to shut down the train by pressing the emergency cut-off fuel switch on the last engine, it doesn't work. Sara explains she already tried that from the second engine, because of multiple-unit control everything operates from the inaccessible lead engine.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Ranken's unwarranted brutality is only matched by the bare minimum he devotes to appearing professional.
  • Filth: Porn mags provide distractions on two points.
  • Fingore: Manny gets half of his left hand crushed by the train's Buckeye coupler.
  • Four Is Death: The runaway is a consist of four forbidding locomotives, even Buck is confused why Manny would choose them to escape on.
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!: Manny's character in a nutshell.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: A corrections officer falls beneath the train and is ripped in half by the train's wheels.
  • 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 "it's 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 Ranken three times. Needless to say, the warden is pissed and wants the bank robber dead.
  • Hero Antagonist: Averted by Warden Ranken. While his goal of pursuing Buck and Manny is righteous in theory, Ranken is a cruel Knight Templar more concerned about settling his petty rivalry with Manny than anything else and steps way outside the bounds of the law so he can kill them both out of spite.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Manny makes the jump onto the lead engine, at the cost of half his hand. He defeats Ranken 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.
  • High-Dive Escape: The conductor of the eastbound 12 train jumps clear of his caboose scarce moments before the runaway collides into it.
  • 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 Ranken with a fire extinguisher.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: Ranken accuses Manny of believing he's a hero about to die as a martyr just to liberate his fellow convicts from the warden's sadism. Ranken calls him "scum", to which Manny replies they're both scum.
  • Insufferable Genius: Frank Barstow, at first.
    Frank: The system's foolproof.
    Dave: Why, because you designed it.
  • Irony: Ranken'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.
  • Knight Templar: How Ranken sees himself in front of civilians as a Reasonable Authority Figure whose holding back wild animals away from society, but really he's fooling no one.
  • Magic Brakes: Realistically averted. As Al is dying, he engages his train's brakes while the throttle is fully open. While the screeching of them alerts foreman Cassidy that something is seriously wrong, they start to burn off as the engines leave the yard, and the train subsequently picks up speed.
  • Manchild: Buck behaves more like a hyperactive child than an adult. He's impulsive, overly excitable, and he has an idealistic devotion to Manny that seems more natural to a toddler than a hardened convict. He's possibly a Psychopathic Manchild if you believe the act of rape on his rap sheet was more than just statutory.
  • 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 it's 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.
  • Motor Mouth: Unless he's told to keep his mouth shut, Buck will run his mouth off like there's no tomorrow if he thinks there's dead air.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Manny suspects something is wrong despite being in the toilet of the fourth locomotive and oblivious to events transpiring outside. Buck dissuades him however.
    • Later on, Manny realizes what it was that alerted him that there was a problem: the train never hooked up to any freight cars or moved around in the yard; it just started to accelerate. After the crash into the caboose, Manny realizes another thing he noticed: the whistle never blew, even when two trains were on a collision course.
  • The Needs of the Many: MacDonald has an Oh, Crap! moment when he realizes Barstow has run out of options and sent the runaway towards Elkins chemical plant. Arguing if the train derails into it, there would be a catastrophic spill that could endanger lives across the state and beyond. Eventually everyone concedes to send it onto a disused mine spur instead.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: Manny is resolved to never end up back in Stonehaven.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Manny, Buck, and Sara were basically ready to Face Death with Dignity, and Ranken would have seen his most troublesome prisoner finally disposed of. However, because Ranken believes he's The Only One Allowed to Defeat You, he flies the police chopper to the train's location to personally capture Manny. The corrections officer sent down first ends up falling to his death and breaking the front window of the car the convicts and Sara were holed up in, spurring Manny on to make a suicidal jump to lead engine.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: Buck mentions that "only two other guys ever got out once" while gushing about Manny (and his) third escape, but details about those other two escapees (how they made it out, and whether they got away clean) aren't mentioned.
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man: Sara. Between the cruel and amoral Manny and the moronic Buck, she's the only one on the train who has a good head screwed on her shoulders.
  • Outside Ride: Buck tries and fails to climb around outside the streamlined F-unit to reach the lead engine as there's nothing to hold onto. Manny tries this perilous crossing later, albeit on the nose of the engine, at the cost of his left hand.
  • Overworked Sleep: Sara fell asleep in the second engine and so was unaware of events that transpired earlier, until they crash into another train that is.
  • Pretty Freeloaders: Ruby the train offie's secretary cares a lot more about doing her makeup then actually answering the phone and taking her time going to walk over and get Frank. She does get better once the crisis is really underway (albeit without much to actually do at that point).
  • Prison Riot: The film opens with prison holding the convicted main character in a state of riot.
  • Rail-Car Separation: Manny's final act is to uncouple the lead engine from the rest of the train, leaving Ranken and him to die as its minutes away from crashing.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The train is simply the "Arrow of Time" and measure of a man's life from beginning to end. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it. The engines, a cruel society that refuses to rehabilitate, and a convict that cannot be rehabilitated, are all going down a dead-end road together.
  • 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.
  • Seen It All: MacDonald when Frank numbly asks how so much could have gone wrong, MacDonald simply replies "Some things can't be explained."
  • Sentimental Shabbiness: As the railroad modernized, Al the runaway's engineer, didn't want to see the old engines getting scrapped. MacDonald remarked he drove everyone in the company "bananas" to keep them in service. Needless to say that the whole plot is happening because it's coming back to bite everybody in the ass.
    • The old signal maintainer seemed to share the same sentiment, cursing and swearing when MacDonald initially orders him to derail the train at Jordan.
  • 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."
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Sara begs Buck to hold her as the runaway is soon to crash, he obliges. Manny scoffs that everyone dies alone.
  • Straw Nihilist: What Manny has become at his core over his lifetime as a criminal and prisoner. He gives his fair share of Despair Speeches ridiculing anyone's beliefs in hope, miracles, faith or living any unrealistic dream incompatible with reality. Ranken taunts him aboard 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 as if to say 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.
  • Taking You with Me: In the end, Manny traps Ranken with him on the final engine as it careens towards its final destination, preferring to die with Ranken as his prisoner than to be captured again.
  • Tattooed Crook: Buck has some notable tats.
  • Threat Backfire: Barstow quickly regrets threatening to throw Ranken out of central railroad headquarters, and the warden promises to kick his teeth in if he doesn't disclose the runaway's location.
  • 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.
  • Unsafe Haven: Manny and Buck are skeptical of Sara coming back to the last engine until she explains she only did so because its the safest place should they crash again.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Sara convinces the convicts jumping off the train is suicide and their best hope if they can't completely stop it is to slow it down. They disconnect the MU cables, disabling the rear two engines. While the train's still going dangerously fast, its enough to allow them to cross an elderly trestle without collapse.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Ranken's previously unflappable composure breaks when Manny refuses to activate the emergency break on the final engine, intending to pull a Taking You with Me with the warden. Ranken is left begging and shouting obscenities before grimly accepting his fate after Manny decouples the final engine from the other cars.
  • Villain Protagonist: Manny and Buck are unrepentant convicts, though they do have some standards.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Ranken. Granted, Manny is mentioned (and then shown) to be an escape artist and a violent thug, but Ranken 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.
  • Who Is Driving?: After the runaway smashes through the end of another train without even slowing down, all Manny's suspicions are confirmed, and decides to investigate what's going on.
  • Worthy Opponent: Manny and Ranken. Also covers The Only One Allowed to Defeat You.