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The Train

(1964, Frankenheimer)
A film mostly set on a train

"You know what's on that train? Paintings. That's right, paintings. Art. The national heritage. The pride of France. Crazy, isn't it?"

That's how Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster), train engineer and member of the French Resistance, describes the cargo of stolen art on board of the titular train that he has been commissioned to take out of France and into Germany by Col. Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield). The thing is that Labiche doesn't necessarily care about the art, but rather about stopping the Germans at any cost.

What a pleasant surprise this film was. Not only does it manage to be both entertaining, intense, and thrilling, but there's also a certain depth to the two main characters that I really wasn't expecting from it. The film is full of masterfully staged setpieces and cracking action sequences. Director John Frankenheimer frequent use of pans and zooms, wide shots, long takes, and practical effects is amazing and effective. The whole production value of the film is top of the line.

But again, the film is so much more than great action setpieces. Frankenheimer neatly puts both lead characters Labiche and von Waldheim as "mirror opposites" as far as their determination goes, and the length that each of them will go to achieve their goals. There is a perfect contrast between them that goes down to the very last scene, which I found to be profound, tragic, and kick-ass at the same time, as weird as that might be.

Lancaster, who is becoming a favorite of mine as I watch more of his films, isn't necessarily the most emotional, but he does portray the necessary drive and bottled anger of the character against the things that are happening around him. Scofield, who I don't remember seeing in anything else, also conveys the obsession of his character with this art pieces, which borders in madness. I was really surprised by his performance.

Maybe my only gripe is that the relationship they try to build between Labiche and hotel owner Christine (Jeanne Moreau) isn't that well handled or maybe even necessary, but it really didn't bother me that much. The more I think of this film, the more I love it, and the more I think it was as perfect as it could be; an excellent mixture of action, thrills, and powerful drama. Crazy, isn't it?