• Night Train



    Released by: National Entertainment Media
    Released on: 7/7/2009
    Director: Brian King
    Cast: Danny Glover, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Richard O’Brien
    Year: 2009
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    The directorial debut of Brian King, 2009’s Night Train owes more than a nod to Hitchcock but also feels similar to Boyle’s Shallow Grave (which also owes Hitchcock) while pilfering ideas from Pulp Fiction and Night Train To Terror along the way. As such, you definitely get the feeling as you watch this movie that you’ve been down this track before, but to the director’s credit, you want to see how this whole cinematic stew is going to digest.

    Not surprisingly, the film is set on a train, and on Christmas Eve no less, where an aging conductor named Miles (Danny Glover) is tending to the few sporadic passengers who are accompanying on this trip from one unnamed destination to the next. In the lounge car, a salesman named Peter (Steve Zahn) is chatting it up with a pretty bookwormish anatomy student named Chloe (Leelee Sobieski) when they’re joined by a strange man carrying a package. He foolishly mixes vodka with his pills and, shortly after joining the pair, drops dead. When they look at the package he was carrying and ascertain that it’s got diamonds inside worth, according to Peter, roughly five million dollars, they decide to dispose of the body and keep the gems for themselves. Miles is initially resistant but his ailing wife needs medical care and he knows he won’t be able to take care of her the way that he wants to on his small salary.

    After Chloe shockingly hacks the body up and puts it in a trunk, the toss the remains off the train and over a bridge but what they don’t realize is that there are others on the train, including the strangely masculine Mrs. Froy (Richard O’Brien), the young assistant conductor Frankie (Matthias Schweighofer), and the frumpy Mr. Cairo (Jo Marr), who know about the cargo that the dead man was carrying and who want it for themselves…

    Night Train isn’t, as stated, a particularly original concept but it’s quite well executed even if at times the film definitely feels like more of a stage play thanks to the rather limited confines of its setting. King makes up for this by making use of some quirky colored lighting to give the film a very odd look, accentuating things with the Christmas lights and outdoor lights that come in through the train to nice effect. On top of this, he manages to get some pretty decent performances out of his cast as well. Glover plays it safe here, epitomizing the ‘wise old black dude’ role he’s played time and time again, while Steve Zahn has no problems giving his salesman life. The star of the show, however, is Leelee Sobieski who has a cool sexiness to her character that contrasts nicely with her nerdy persona. She throws herself into the role and not only looks the part but delivers the most interesting performance in the film as well. Richard O’Brien and the rest of the supporting cast have minimal roles, but they all do fine with that material here.

    The biggest complaint that simply has to be levied against the film is that the shots of the train barreling down the tracks – and there are a lot of them – are all done in CGI, and really crappy CGI at that. As soon as one of these shots appears, we’re taken from a reasonably engrossing thriller into a nineties era Playstation game cut scene and it sucks you right out of the film. Had King actually shot footage of a train or maybe found some decent stock footage rather than relied on poor quality computer renderings of the same, we’d have had a much more consistent tone and atmosphere throughout the picture and would have been left with a better movie because of it.

    That said, flawed or not, Night Train is a fun movie. It’s got a nice mix of legitimately clever suspense, black comedy, slick art direction and good acting and while the really spotty CGI and familiar plot devices come close to screwing it all up, ultimately the good still outweighs the bad.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Night Train arrives on Blu-ray in a decent 1080i AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film’s quirky candy coated color scheme is replicated quite nicely here, giving the film an appropriately stagey look that actually works in its favor. This isn’t reference quality HD but for a low budget indy, the movie looks decent on Blu-ray. Skin tones are fine, black levels remain reasonably consistent in tone and detail levels are okay. You’ve got to keep in mind that this is a weird looking movie and the odd stylistic choices are intentional, so the color timing and odd hues that you definitely will notice are part of the film, not an authoring flaw. The movie looks very’ pop’ and honestly, it works.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track won’t floor you but it does offer some low end rumble in the scenes where we hear the train barreling down the tracks while at the same time providing clean, clear and fairly well balanced dialogue. There isn’t a ton of rear channel action but some ambient noise adds a bit of atmosphere to a few key scenes. Surround activity is minimal, but it is there and there aren’t any major problems to complain about even if this track is rather simplistic in nature.

    Night Train comes with two features, the first of which is the twenty-three minute Making Of Night Train which offers up some behind the scenes footage and interview bits in a fairly promotional EPK-style format that, despite the promotional nature of it all, is of marginal interest. Also included is a twenty-eight minute collection of cast and crew interviews. King talks about his intentions for the film and what inspired him to make it while the cast members – Sobieski, Glover, Zahn and Richard O’Brien – all talk about their characters and what they liked about the movie. There’s nothing particularly deep here, but if you want input from the cast and director, here it is. Both of these features are presented with a disclaimer about the video quality, which is understandable as they look like old Real Video presentations, they’re heavily compressed and presented in non-anamorphic standard definition widescreen format.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s theatrical trailer, a still gallery, some animated menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Night Train is a decent enough thriller that might borrow fairly heavily from other, better movies but it’s got enough going for it in terms of style and flat out screwiness that it’s nothing if not entertaining – and that makes it worth a look.