Manny is a hardened convict in an Alaskan maximum-security prison, aptly named Stonehaven. He's such a nasty piece of work, and has escaped so many times before, that warden Ranken (John P. Ryan) has locked him up and sealed the door for three years. Now, thanks to a liberal court judgement, the welds are broken and Manny sees daylight, again. Ranken may have a grudging respect for his nemesis, but in Manny's heart there's only vicious hate for authority. And so, when a 'hitman' attacks Stonehaven's most feared and revered inmate, Manny flees into 30-below arctic conditions in yet another desperate bid for freedom.
Exiting a sewer pipe into an icy river, hero-worshipping hard-man, Buck (Eric Roberts), joins Manny for a hastily planned getaway. Heading into the unknown, and motivated by pure instinct, Manny hides at the railway yards before climbing aboard a huge four-engine work train, unaware that its driver has collapsed from heart failure just as it left the station. Meanwhile, back at Stonehaven, the angry but unsurprised Ranken uses a helicopter to aid his search for the escapees.
Over at the computerised monitoring centre, technicians (including Kenneth McMillan) fail to prevent the 90-mph runaway behemoth from smashing up slow freight carriages, while Manny and Buck discover a maintenance engineer, Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), who fell asleep before that accident, cannot halt their wild acceleration, either...
As the brooding Manny, Jon Voight gives a career-best performance of visceral tenacity. Not one that's warmly life affirming, though. It's one that is simply, but extremely, resistant to compromise, stubbornly defiant of failure and, ultimately, a standing-in-the-howling-wind challenge to death itself. Certainly, Manny is a heavyweight villainous character, lacking any positively human qualities, but we greatly admire him anyway.
Of course, runaway train drama has been done before (it's a cliché of the disaster movie formula), but never like this. Here's a powerful recurring image of the train as demon beast from hell, and a metaphor of searing intensity for Manny's tragic journey through a life of crime. Images of the doomed locomotive, racing through wintry landscapes, with twisted fragments of wreckage stuck to its front are quite unforgettable. Based on a script by Japan's Kurosawa, produced by Israeli duo Golan and Globus, directed by Russian Andrei Konchalovsky (who went on make the disappointing Tango & Cash), shot with a grand but gritty realism by prolific British cinematographer Alan Hume, and scored by the gifted South African-born composer Trevor Jones, Runaway Train arrived with an enviable international pedigree, and won critical acclaim as a classic of 1980s' action cinema.
DVD extras: Dolby 5.1 or stereo sound options, biographies of the director and stars, photo gallery, trailer, scene finder with 18 chapters, fully animated menus.