Last Passenger (2013)
Editor’s Note: Last Passenger is now open in limited release
Are we able to open on a POV shot from a moving carriage without evoking the spirit of Strangers on a Train? We ought to be, of course; even Hitchcock himself didn’t, saving that series of overlapping fate fades for a few minutes into the movie. That Last Passenger does so nevertheless is not a fact in its favour, even if its similarities extend only to that title fitting the collection of characters cobbled together on its tracks. This film, the first feature from writer-director Omid Nooshin, is at first a fleeting success in its own right, until eventually it doesn’t even take stacking it up against a classic to leave it looking a little like a wreck.
Dougray Scott’s dour performance describes a dad dedicated almost despite himself; his lively rapport with able young newcomer Joshua Kaynama is enough to elevate the perfunctory paternity of the script to stronger stature.
Its strongest suit is that it’s not the movie its marketing makes it seem, at least in the opening act where Nooshin and co-writer Andrew Love’s script sees fit to flesh out the few figures at its heart. They, aboard the late-night service, include a father and young son whose strained relationship is a fine is familiar emotional basis. Dougray Scott’s dour performance describes a dad dedicated almost despite himself; his lively rapport with able young newcomer Joshua Kaynama is enough to elevate the perfunctory paternity of the script to stronger stature. Amidst it all, Nooshin establishes the idea of threat well, his underlit aesthetic suggesting near-lurking nastiness and laying a bedrock of survivalist sentiment.
Whatever the writing’s weakness—the early emergence of a love interest is sure to elicit a groan—there’s a stray trace of ambition to the way Nooshin sets the scene, as though the threat we know is soon to come carries a more allegorical weight. It’s a notion well-aided by the even ethnographic spread of the cast, whose stray glances smartly say much of the public transport paranoia prominent in—yet by no means peculiar to—the London setting. Here’s where the antagonist’s anonymity helps; when things go bad, as they inevitably must, it’s a faceless fear Nooshin exploits, effectively agonising the nerves with a scenario that’s scary first for its immediacy, second for the absurd uncertainty of its motivation.
Genre demands are ill-at-ease with the existential aspirations of the plot, and the kind of CGI-heavy stunt work feature running-time calls for soon sees Nooshin and co. not only drop the ball but lose it altogether.
Would that things remained that way: if Last Passenger, in tandem with its mobilised setting, shifts speed when the action erupts, it grinds to a halt the faster it goes. Genre demands are ill-at-ease with the existential aspirations of the plot, and the kind of CGI-heavy stunt work feature running-time calls for soon sees Nooshin and co. not only drop the ball but lose it altogether. For every ounce of technical invention—a carriage was retro-fitted with a camera track on the luggage rack—there’s a pound of pitiful effects work, set to a score that’s outrageously eager to tell us how we ought to feel about it all. Bored is how we do, after a while; as the script contrives daring new leaps and lunges aplenty, you start to just wish they’d all taken the bus instead.
It does little to be tough on Nooshin, a dedicated director whose prior work comprises a trio of shorts from the ‘90s; his film fails even on its own terms, but it’s only the consequence of having to twist those terms to fit the type of thriller within which he tries to work to the benefit both of it and his film. The invention of his craft attests the intention at its heart, and though it’s a movie unable to achieve aspirations across the changing course of its plot, there’s still the sense of a filmmaker who emerges all the better for at least having tried. Last Passenger, meanwhile, is welcome to have its half-baked cake and eat it too.
Last Passenger is welcome to have its half-baked cake and eat it too.