Looking at the Blu-ray cover for Last Passenger, one might feel bad for Dougray Scott. Since losing out on the chance to play Wolverine to Hugh Jackman and starring in the worst Mission: Impossible movie, he's been hanging around on the fringes, mostly doing work outside of the United States, occasionally popping up in a larger project like Dark Water or Hitman. He's recently had a bit of success with Netflix's "Hemlock Grove", but here he is, starring in what looks like super-generic direct-to-video action movie, the kind that are shot in Bulgaria for $15 million with a cast of unknowns -- the last refuge for C-list leading men. Yet, surprisingly, the movie is better than that, an unusually leisurely thriller that trades explosions and gunfights for character.
Scott plays Dr. Lewis Shaler, a tired A&E surgeon who is called in on New Year's Eve to help with some people who were in a car accident. Before he can get to work, he's got to get off his train and drop his young boy, Max (Joshua Kaynama) off with his grandparents, but the train mysteriously breezes by his stop. Along with the other passengers -- charming party planner Sarah (Kara Tointon), uptight businessman Peter Carmichael (David Schofield), Russian engineering student and would-be magician Jan Klimowski (Iddo Goldberg), and Elaine (Lindsay Duncan), a quiet old woman who sneaks into first class after the train empties out -- Lewis starts to investigate. Before long, the bad news begins to pile up: a mysterious person, dumped on the tracks and crawling away, more missed stops, and no brakes. Someone has hijacked their train.
Based on the plot, it seems as if this will be an "unlikely hero" narrative that would eventually find Lewis climbing onto the roof or shooting at thugs posted throughout the train, but Last Passenger is not that kind of movie. A half an hour passes before Lewis even notices something is wrong, and director Omid Nooshin spends that time focusing on Lewis, Max, and Sarah. Max accidentally knocks Sarah's coffee onto her jacket, prompting Lewis to speak to her, and they have a certain chemistry almost instantly. Although Tointon is more than ten years younger than Scott, Scott exhibits a natural, weary charisma that's very convincing -- Lewis is intrigued and attracted enough by Sarah to try and strike up a conversation, but also tired enough to remain relaxed while doing it.
After the initial setup, the film shifts its focus to the other characters. At first, Peter Carmichael seems like the obstructive character, a device for the screenwriters that can do the wrong thing at every opportunity. However, he has a great foil in Jan, the young, belligerent Russian with a chip on his shoulder. Before the train is hijacked, Peter confronts Jan about his cigarette smoking, putting Jan in a mood, but the way Peter and Jan's relationship changes as the film progresses is one of the movie's most entertaining threads. They share a scene that most thrillers would never bother doing, or at best truncate into a couple of lines. Nooshin and co-writers Andy Love and Kas Graham expand upon these moments, allowing them to stretch their legs. The writing team also deserves extra praise for their handling of Max, one of the few movie kids I've ever seen who isn't too precocious or too dumb. Max feels like an actual child, which is all too rare.
What's really interesting is how little of Last Passenger is focused on plot. A train being hijacked is the story, anything else (i.e. motivations, method -- hell, even the identity of those who are committing the crime) is basically a MacGuffin. Nooshin and his team, therefore, make the bold decision to leave all that out. There is a man driving the train, but Scott and Jan are unable to break the window into his compartment. Instead, they try to problem solve from anywhere else in the train, which is otherwise empty from front to back. The film is not free of cliche (the gang's various plans to stop the train or figure out how to get off of it are all very familiar), but it's surprising how unnecessary those details really are with such entertaining protagonists to follow. An extended moment where Lewis tries to save someone is awkward, and the end is silly, but for the most part, this is an entertaining and unconventionally small-scale thriller, which gets from point A to point B with impressive narrative efficiency.
Cohen Media Group generally offers their titles in clear Blu-ray cases, with their distinctive, blocky red C framing the artwork. Perhaps Last Passenger is just a film they happen to have the rights to distribute rather than part of some prestige line of their titles, but it comes in a standard Blu-ray case, with generic, direct-to-video photoshoppy art with sparks flying and lens flare and a big image of Dougray Scott's face leaning in over a smaller figure (probably meant to be Dougray Scott, but isn't) performing a death-defying stunt. There is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Cohen's 2.39:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation of Last Passenger is pretty much fantastic across the board. The entirety of the movie takes place at night, and so the degree to which this disc keeps banding at a minimum is as shocking as it is impressive. Crush is a bit more intrusive, but since the grade from dark to light is so finely handled, I have to imagine the intent is for little to no detail to be visible in those areas anyway. The image has a pleasing accuracy that feels more filmlike than digital -- no jagged edges here. The sound mix impresses starting with the opening credits, which feature a train blazing through a number of stops, takes a bit of a break for awhile as the characters mostly sit around and talk, then comes roaring back for an explosive, action-packed finale. It's an immersive, armrest-gripping mix that will rattle the viewer as if they were on the train themselves. For whatever reason, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is included, along side French 5.1 and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Although the packaging doesn't mention any extras, a collection of clips are included as supplementary material. "B Roll" (5:57) is exactly as advertised, showing the crew at work during the filming of a number of scenes from the movie. Not particularly interesting. This is followed by a featurette strikingly titled "Featurette" (3:20), in which the viewer can see much of the same B-roll they've just watched alongside clips from the movie they've just watched. The amount of interview material in here, which is all soundbyte kind of stuff, is distressingly minimal. "Set Design" (4:12) picks up the pace a little, sitting down with production designer Jon Bunker to talk about the construction and use of the train set. It's more informative than the first two clips, albeit a bit dry. "Sound Effects" (2:21) follows suit, chatting with Eilam Hoffman, sound design editor, about the effort that went into making the train sound real. A bit better than the set design extra, if only because it's shorter. "Visual Effects" (3:07) is the most lively of these features, with visual effects supervisor Tim Smit energetically speaking about the artistic and technical challenges of the effects work (the effort that goes into lens flare...). The disc is rounded out by the misleadingly titled "Sound Bites" (32:09), which is the rest of the interview footage so minimally drawn on for the featurette. Dougray seems pretty disinterested, but some of the other actors are more engaged. Each one is presented in HD.
A trailer for Breathe In plays before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Last Passenger is also included.
Last Passenger isn't likely to rank among the greatest action thrillers of the year (or whatever year one feels they should file it under), but it's much better than I expected, and most definitely not the movie it's being advertised as. This leisurely, character-driven thriller pleases by stripping away the unnecessary details other, similar films spend so much time focusing on, and remains exciting in its execution. Recommended.