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    Unstoppable Lion

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Thirty years apart, celebrated Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky directed visually captivating movies in which a tight group of desperate characters are thrown together by overwhelming events, alternately drawn to and repulsed by each other while facing down the seemingly unstoppable onrush of annihilation. Eleven days ago, he won the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion Best Director Prize for his newest film, the Russian/German co-production Ray aka Paradise (2016), shot in languid black-and-white and the vintage Academy aspect ratio to depict the harrowing World War II story of an upper-class French Resistance operative who is captured and sentenced to a concentration camp, where she is reunited with a one-time love who is now a highly-ranked SS officer assigned there in a senior management role. In a bravura deviation from previous Holocaust tale depictions, Konchalovsky (who wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Elena Kiseleva) intersperses dreamlike imagery of the earlier days of their romantic flirtation with brutal depictions of camp life and stylized, soul-revealing direct-to-camera interviews with the three principal characters to provide a kaleidoscopic framework of their varied perspectives to the horrific events that enmesh them, adding an overlay of mystery and terrible beauty to the primal emotions that fuel the need for love and survival. Back in 1985, with a screenplay originally written by the great Akira Kurosawa and adapted with laserlike precision by Djordje Milecevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker, Konchalovsky operated in primal mode with tough, taut efficiency and the result, which also peered into the fatalistic emptiness of the abyss, was one of the unexpectedly great action thrillers ever to thunder down the cinematic track: Runaway Train (1985), from the house of action, Cannon Films, but at an astonishingly higher, more visceral and skillfully executed level than most of that studio’s usual genre fare. There’s no emotional reserve or ironic distance here: Jon Voight and Eric Roberts (in ferocious performances nominated for Academy Awards®) play convicts – one a savage, hardened bank robber/lifer and the other an admiring miscreant serving time for rape – who escape a maximum security prison in Alaska, steal into a nearby rail yard and stow away aboard the rear car of a train compiled of four conjoined locomotives pulling out on its run. What they can’t see from their vantage point is that the engineer in the lead cab is stricken with a heart attack; he hits the brakes but fails to idle the throttle before falling off the accelerating behemoth, which powers ahead as its screeching brake shoes burn away, rendering it unstoppable. As in Ray, Konchalovsky shifts among three perspectives: the two fugitives (and a previously sequestered railroad worker gamely played by Rebecca DeMornay) struggling to survive their out-of-control freedom ride; the railway dispatchers who become increasingly alarmed when their infallible computers are proven ineffective and they must clear their track lines of traffic to avert catastrophe; and the relentless pursuit of the heinous prison warden (the masterfully menacing John P. Ryan) to intercept the train and catch or kill his quarry. The suspense is so acutely balanced and pulse-poundingly paced that film editor Henry Richardson garnered his own Oscar® nod. Stunningly shot by Alan Hume (For Your Eyes Only, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and the Twilight Time title Eye of the Needle), Runaway Train is due to embark from the TT Blu-ray depot boasting a new Audio Commentary with co-star Roberts and film historians/Cannon veterans David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner, plus Trevor Jones’s roaring, operatically-tinged score on an Isolated Track. Konchalovsky’s diverse resume also includes arthouse gems Maria’s Lovers, Shy People and Duet for One and the testosterone caper Tango & Cash. Now that he’s a freshly anointed Silver Lion, experience his breakthrough as an Action Engineer when Runaway Train roars onto hi-def October 11. Preorders open September 28.