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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 07.06.09] movie review thriller noir

Year: 2009
Directors: Brian King
Writers: Brian King
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Amazon: Link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 6 out of 10

Screenwriter Brian King makes a valiant effort to bring a classic noir flavor to his moody directorial debut, but ultimately Night Train fails to deliver a second coming of Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon and comes off feeling like a by-the-numbers retread of A Simple Plan mixed with a not-so-memorable episode of The Twilight Zone.

That's not to say there isn't also a lot to like here. King's screenplay may not be terribly original, but it is at least a cinephile's wet dream - full of references to past characters and film noir flicks. The ensemble cast of Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski, and Steve Zahn is also uniformly strong considering their paper-thin characters and I liked how the sets evoke a timeless feeling where you're never quite sure what era you're in.

So what went wrong?

The story's set-up reads like a classic Hitchcockian thriller. Three strangers, each with their own dilemmas, meet on a night train on Christmas eve. Chloe (Sobieski) is a young biology/med student who feels trapped by her chosen profession, Miles (Danny Glover) is an aging conductor with medical bills to pay and Peter Dobbs (Zahn) is a bad salesman who revels in an alcohol stupor. The twisted story that swirls around these strangers begins when a mysterious man dies and they find a box that seems to contain the answer to each of their problems. Will they work together to figure out the boxes secrets, or tear each other apart out of desperation and greed?

Yes we've seen this greed-amongst-brothers plot played out before in everything from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Shallow Grave, but with King bringing a supernatural twist into the mix there's at least a new element to warrant some excitement. I like the magical box idea a lot but thought it could have been expanded upon. Granted the box in question is simply a "MacGuffin" - as in a device that is introduced to just move the plot along - but besides introducing a nifty "brotherhood" who look after the box and its contents, I was left feeling like the box and where it came from needed to be explored more.

The story is fast paced enough that you don't really have the time to dwell on plot holes or anything but everything happens so quickly that the characters also take second stage to the plot's rapid momentum. Of course, this is a hard-boiled noir so stock characters should be expected.

Another major issue is King's direction which comes across as stagy and a little too theatrical for my liking. The film also looks like it was all shot in soft-focus. I can only assume King was playing up the film's otherworldly quality, but by going with less of a soft look I think he could have made the film feel more cinematic and less like a TV movie.

At the end of the day, Night Train is a fun first effort, but doesn't come close to showcasing King's true talents as a screenwriter. Just go back and watch the truly fantastic Cypher and you'll see what I mean.

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