That Was My Stop! (Film Review: “Last Passenger”)

A suspenseful British nail-biter that makes you think twice before stepping on your commuter train home.

SnapShot Plot

Last Passenger is the closest thing to a summer blockbuster that you’re going to get from Norma’s Streaming Picks. I may say I prefer characters over super-heroes (and I mean it) but c’mon, I’m only human! A thrill’s a thrill, after all. And in this little nugget of an anti-blockbuster of sorts (don’t be fooled by the movie posters whose teaser copy under the title reads, “The Ride to Hell!”) instead of super-heroes we have a handful of average Londoners just trying to get home on a late local train that’s supposed to stop at all the stations.

Try to ignore the cheesy music behind the long, masterful opening shot from the perspective of the train itself, lights and stations whizzing by to create a mysterious nightscape which sets the tone for the unnerving events about to unfold on-board. In very Agatha Christie-meets-Hitchcock, we encounter our main characters as they encounter each other in various setups having to do with spilled coffee, a rambunctious child, a threatening thug, and an uptight office worker. Leading the cast is international star, Dougray Scott, totally convincing as overworked ER physician and single father, Lewis Shaler, who’s on the train with his precocious young son, Max. Being a spot-on diagnostician, nothing escapes Lewis’s eye, hence we observe the action around him as he does, with a mixture of clinical detachment and bemused interest. So when a seemingly violent thug with a vaguely alarming foreign accent (deliciously played by Israeli-British actor, Iddo Goldberg) begins brutalizing the meek train guard as well as a fellow passenger (finely played by veteran screen & stage actor David Schofield), Lewis suppresses his impulse to intervene, especially as his attention is distracted by the beautiful young woman who has taken a shine to young Max. But before any real flirtation can blossom, Lewis begins to notice some strange things that just don’t add up. In one scene, Lewis glances out the train window and sees something quite alarming on the tracks, and later when he tries to recount it to the others, there’s an element of doubt in their reaction, which of course makes us wonder what indeed he really saw. I was reminded here of that brilliant Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, starring a young William Shatner as an emotionally fragile passenger who spots a gremlin on the wing of his passenger jet, to the disbelief of everyone on board . . . (that episode nearly ruined air travel for me.)

As our little group discovers they are the last passengers on a speeding train that could derail at any moment, they realize they have to find out who or what is behind the controls and somehow work together to ensure their survival.

 

 

Parting Shot

Last Passenger is the debut feature length film from British writer/director, Omid Nooshin, who manages here to combine the stock elements of action-thriller-suspense movies with a reassuringly character-driven plot, which makes for a much more satisfying cinema experience. In fact, there’s an almost old-fashioned quality to the character portraits in Last Passenger which have to do with a straight-forwardness of exposition and a reluctance to subscribe to those role and character reversals which have become a universal conceit of modern thrillers and suspense films. Without issuing any spoiler alert, it’s refreshing to make an emotional investment in certain characters and not be ‘cheated’ by tricks and twists that end up making you feel foolish for trusting your instincts in the first place. I also respected Nooshin’s decision to make the individual at the controls of the train, incidental to the passengers themselves. This is their story, not his.

A word about Scottish native, Dougray Scott, who carries this picture quite well and should probably go on to more leading man roles. He’s probably mostly known to female audiences as the heartthrob co-star of Drew Barrymore in the fairy tale romance, Ever After, and has since gone on to play less virtuous characters including the villain in Mission Impossible II and Liam Neeson’s nemesis in Taken III. In fact, he was  the lead contender to replace Pierce Brosnan in the Bond series with Casino Royale, but of course the role landed in the pocket of Daniel Craig, much to the delight of this humble admirer.

Another aspect of the film which I believe makes Last Passenger a daring production is it’s refusal to rely on sexy, mega-explosive special effects or CGI to get its point across that this is a life and death situation with devastating consequences. . . hence an anti-blockbuster. Check out the MacGyver-like pyrotechnics that can be created with a combination of Scotch, a fire extinguisher, a seat cushion and a woolen sweater. Indeed, the instruments and mechanisms on the train itself are so low-tech that they retain an almost nostalgic and mysterious quality on their own.

One impression that was like a running gag through the tension-filled drama had to do with train travel in England. According to Last Passenger, the average British commuter has an impressive knowledge of all things locomotive, including: brake systems, couplers, diesel vs. electrical, air pressure, instrument gauges, et al. And when in doubt, just grab the handy conductor’s manual and study the diagrams. Oh, and this is all the while the clock is ticking to doomsday. I wonder if we Americans would be as stalwart? What’s the expression? Keep Calm and Carry On. I’ll try to remember that when the hand brakes fail!

Last Passenger is presently streaming on Netflix.

 

For a fascinating behind-the-scenes interview with Cinematographer, Angus Hudson, watch this:

 

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters rights on a new site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here on my own site. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLLaByFI62Y

 

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