Film Review: Last Passenger

This taut and engaging thriller nicely exploits a common fear—that by simply going about our ordinary lives, any of us could wind up in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.

The genesis of Last Passenger evidently goes back to 2008, when the film’s script was named one of the best unproduced screenplays in the U.K.—gaining as many votes from industry insiders as another “little” movie called The King’s Speech.

Not that these two films have anything else in common. The King’s Speech was an inspiring historical drama based on a little-known episode in the life of a recent British king, and its screenplay cried out for the big-budget, big-star treatment that helped it win four Oscars in 2011—including Best Picture. Last Passenger, on the other hand, is a low-key, low-budget suspense thriller starring relative unknown actors as ordinary people in an ordinary contemporary setting. In other words, Last Passenger is not flashy enough to win an Oscar—but it nevertheless deserves some kind of prize for being a near-perfect example of a lately ignored genre.

The Hitchcock influence is quite evident here—in the sudden, out-of-the-blue flashes of fear, and in the way writer-director Omid Nooshin sets up high tension from the very first frames—as he introduces the characters one by one and puts them in a confined space from which there’s no escape: a late-night train out of London to Tunbridge Wells. Our focus falls on a widowed father, Dr. Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott), and his seven-year old son Max (Joshua Kaynama), who are traveling home just before Christmas. Although it’s the holiday season, no one is jolly—except for Sarah (Kara Tointon) a flirtatious young woman who immediately comes on to the doc—almost aggressively so. He’s intrigued but can’t help but wonder what Sarah’s up to.

Yet Lewis asks Sarah to take charge of Max while he answers a call from his hospital; there’s been a horrific auto accident and he’s needed in surgery. Naturally, the doctor is edgy about getting to Tunbridge as soon as possible and, being edgy, Lewis is the first to notice some strange behavior among his fellow passengers—the sinister foreigner Jan (Iddo Goldberg), the older and distinguished Peter (David Schofield), and a sweet grandmotherly type, Elaine (Lindsay Duncan). Shortly before they discover they’re the only passengers left on this train, Lewis tells them he thinks he saw a man—a body—on the tracks at the last stop. And then he notices that the conductor/guard is missing, and fairly soon all five of the remaining adult passengers become aware that the train is no longer stopping where it’s supposed to stop. In fact, it seems to be picking up speed…and the emergency brakes aren’t functioning.

The suspense picks up, of course, when it becomes apparent that the 10:15 from London has been taken over by a suicidal maniac—and it’s not just the passengers’ lives that are in jeopardy as the train barrels through every obstacle in its path. There’s a grisly accident or two at rail crossings along the way, but these are seen only in passing because the camera never leaves the confines of the train. Until, that is, it comes to its last stop.

Unfortunately, the end sequence is the only preposterous part of the plot. But the film had to end somehow, and all the action until then is well-written, tautly directed and deftly acted. Altogether, this is a brilliantly done entry in the non-blockbuster suspense genre—of which we haven’t had enough lately.

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