Film Review – Last Passenger
There are usually two reasons why a movie might stick to just a couple of sets or locations instead of exploring the wide world. The first is when a film is based on a play, and the filmmaker doesn’t choose to open it up. Sometimes it works, but can often make the film seem claustrophobic or stagey. The second reason has to do with all things budgetary; less sets and locations equals less money spent moving stuff and people around. Creating limitations on a film can help decrease the cost, which is especially helpful for low-budget filmmakers. Take a look at many director’s first films, and you’ll find a lot of movies made in a friend’s apartment. A good director will take what many see as a problem and use it to his or her advantage. Omid Nooshin’s first feature film, Last Passenger, is set on a train, and for the most part, creates a nice little thriller with no place to go but forward.
Doctor Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott) and his son are on the train traveling from London to Tunbridge Wells. They’re a little sleepy, but there’s a pretty lady on her way home from a night on the town, Sarah (Kara Tointon), who manages to keep them both distracted on the trip. Things take a turn for the weird when the train stops and Lewis thinks he sees a man crawling around outside on the tracks. He calls the police, and that appears to be that. He and Max prepare to get off at their stop in Tunbridge, pulling on coats and hats and flirting with Sarah, when the train bypasses their stop and keeps on going. He tries to communicate with the driver, but gets no real response. The remaining six passengers get together and attempt to figure out what is going on. In addition to Lewis, Max, and Sarah, there is Jan – an Eastern European immigrant who works as a janitor, Elaine – an older (but very nicely put together) grandmother, and Peter – a slavishly rule-abiding businessman. As they attempt to piece together what is happening, they must also deal with the realization that the stakes are much higher than just missing their stop.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, shall we? The first third of this movie is horribly paced. Something interesting happens about 17 minutes in, but it’s not really until the 30-minute mark where things start to get going. Listen, I can get into a slow-paced film high on ideas and low on plot. This is not that kind of movie. I’m going to maintain they could have cut 10+ minutes out of the front third and ended up with a tighter film. This would have been a great 80-minute film; as it is, it’s good at 97. I almost emotionally gave up on the film before it even got going, but the pace does pick up eventually, and things get vastly more interesting. (I get that the director was trying to set up the relationship between Lewis, Max, and Sarah before the action started, but it went on for so loooooong.) The other not-so-great thing about the movie is the annoying guy Peter, is really annoying. Really, really annoying. He’s meant to give the film another source of conflict besides the train-driver, but it’s mostly just painful. The story needs him to be a point of friction, but he goes way beyond that into caricature.
In spite of these problems, Last Passenger has a lot going for it. The acting is pretty solid and I really enjoy Dougray Scott. If you are only familiar with him as the prince from Ever After, he’s going to be a bit of a surprise here. His features have aged and given him a sense of gravitas that I was not expecting from him when he was younger. He’s the focus of this film, and his presence goes a long way to making this a more than just an average B-movie. Because let’s face it, there’s nothing new here. But so many things work well together that it doesn’t really matter. The last hour of the film is nicely paced, it’s got some good performances and the film doesn’t waste time on the motivations of the bad guy. It’s kind of like Speed but if Dennis Hopper never appeared on camera. In some situations, I care only about how the protagonists solve their dire problems. Bad guy sob stories aren’t always that pertinent and can actually hurt a smaller budget film that needs to keep everything tight. I won’t say this is going on my top 10 list, but it was an enjoyable way to spend an otherwise blah afternoon.