Monday, 14 August 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Last Passenger (Omid Nooshin, 2013)

An ingenious spin on the 'locked room' thriller, Last Passenger has sadly gone under the radar. I only caught it a few weeks ago online.

A small group of passengers on a late night train from London discover that the train has been hijacked by a madman, who is intent on crashing it. As the train speeds up, they struggle to come up with a plan to stop the lunatic before he reaches the end of the line.

One of the few suspense pictures that lives up to the 'Hitchcockian' tag, Last Passenger is the directorial debut of Omid Nooshin, who on this evidence should have been snatched up by Hollywood years ago.

With a solid cast led by Dougary Scott (Mission: Impossible II), Last Passenger is an elegantly rendered little potboiler with a superb understanding of pacing and tension. Set entirely on a few train cars, Last Passenger is a terrific example of doing a lot with very little. Even better, the movie never devolves into following easy cliches: the villain, for instance, is barely shown - we see his back and a hand, but nothing more. And we never get an insight into his motives, which augments the sense of menace.

You would think this would handicap the movie's effect, but the script is smart enough to focus on how the pressures of their predicament affect our heroes. The film is rather brutal, but not in terms of violence. As the situation grows more desperate, the characters' mutual alliance is shaken and they begin to crack. We don't get a lot of backstory (or, heaven forbid, flashbacks) to shade the characters - instead Nooshin, along with co-writers Andrew Love and Kas Graham, give us just enough in snatches of dialogue and behaviour to define the characters, and then use the increasing stakes of the scenario to bring out the characters' true natures.

The acting across the boarding is strong without being showy. Scott, an underrated talent, provides a strong centre as Lewis, a single dad who is trying to maintain an aura of calm for his young son while trying to figure out a way to get out of the situation. David Schofield is also notable for managing to take a stock character turn and playing it so you never see it coming.

A good thriller knows how to use sound and cinematography effectively, and on both of these counts Last Passenger is a delight. The use of focus and handheld camerawork in particular are wonderful, drawing the viewer's eye to specific areas within the frame. What is so great about the movie from a style point of view is that it is completely seamless and tied to the story.

Also notable for featuring a believable, non-annoying child performance from Joshua Kaynama and a wonderfully malignant score from Liam Bates (very Bernard Herrmann), Last Passenger is that rare beast, a fully-realised genre picture. Every element works, and there is none of the b-movie cheese that might have derailed it. It is earnest, but not monotone. This movie is a ride in the old school sense of the word: it wants to entertain you, and it does so with intelligence and polish.

If you can find it, Last Passenger is definitely worth checking out.

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