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‘The Last Passenger’ utilizes Hitchcock’s thrilling style

Date: 10/2/2014

This week I watched a thriller in the style of Alfred Hitchcock and an ambitious character study that didn’t quite gel.

The Last Passenger
Ever miss your train stop? Ever worry about missing your train stop? Writer and director Omid Nooshin understands your apprehension and has used it for the basis of this modest but pretty effective thriller.

Dougray Scott played Lewis, a surgeon who has taken his seven-year-old son to London to see a play. They are on their way back home on what appears to be at first an uneventful train trip. Lewis meets a pretty woman Sarah, (played by Kara Tointon) and they seem to have a connection  – don’t worry, Lewis is a widower.

Yes, there is an insensitive conductor and a bit of a row between the conductor and two passengers, but essentially the train trip is normal.

As the train nears the last stops, there are only a handful of passengers left on board, including Lewis, his son, Sarah, an older woman, a Polish immigrant and an uptight businessman. When they realize the train is picking up great speed and treating through their stations, they know something is wrong.

The door to the engineer is barricaded and there appears to be little the police or rail officials can do.

Nooshin‘s story starts slow but it picks up about a half hour into the film. He makes great use of tension between his characters and the limited physical space of the train; both techniques are among the many attributes of a Hitchcock film.

Nooshin also realizes that having ordinary people attempt to do extraordinary things and falter can be more suspenseful than having a typical action hero figure take on the same task.

Finally, the director understands that explicit violence or gore doesn’t have to figure into a modern thriller.

The cast is solid, the story is enthralling and “The Last Passenger” is for those who are interested in an intelligent suspense film.

God’s Pocket

Almost every time I see someone describe a film as “a black comedy,” I wince. That’s because even though I enjoy dark comedies, most film described as such are seldom funny.

“God’s Pocket” is among them. It’s a fascinating creation of a time, a neighborhood and way of life, but it isn’t funny and the script falters in major ways.

Mickey Scarpato (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a guy making his living peddling stolen meat. He is married to a much younger woman, Jeanie, played by the rather stunning Christina Hendricks. She has a 24-year-old son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) who pops pills and is  an easily recognizable dirt bag.

After Leon threatens to kill an elderly man at his job, the man takes a steel pipe to Leon’s head and kills him. Nearly all of Leon’s co-workers and his boss understand the older employee needs to be protected and they collectively lie to the police.

Jeanie believes somehow that the story of an industrial accident isn’t true and Mickey not only has to come up with the money for an appropriate funeral but also must check out the story.

Meanwhile a drunken but beloved local newspaper columnist (Richard Jenkins) is told to write about the accident and falls instantly in love with Jeanie.

To add to this, Mickey’s meat supplier (John Turturro) is in trouble with the mob.

Got all that?

All of this takes place sometime in the 1970s in a Philadelphia neighborhood called God’s Pocket.

The film is not remotely funny. The characters are real, not caricatures and the events that constantly befall our hero Mickey are not amusing but tragic.

While director John Slattery gets right the look and atmosphere of his film, but where he fails is the character of Jeanie and her relationship with Mickey. We need to know why they are together and why Jeanie doesn’t recognize that her son’s death was inevitable because of his behavior. Her character is little more than a shadow in this film.

Without this information, we don’t know why Mickey is taking such heroic efforts to fulfill his wife’s wishes. Another question: Why do her sisters hate him?

If we had more information, if Jeanie was more than simply a character in mourning, this film would have been far more interesting.

The ending of the film is almost nonsensical and attempts to be openly funny. It doesn’t work.

It’s a valiant effort with a great cast that simply doesn’t come together.