US, 1996, 110 minutes, Colour.
Rob Lowe, Kristin Davis, Mena Suvari, Esai Morales, Edward Herrmann.
Directed by Dick Lowry and David Jackson.
Atomic Train was an opportunity for Rob Lowe to be an action star. However, soon afterwards he began his work in The West Wing and achieved a comeback in films as well. However, he is not meant to be an action star out of the ordinary, but rather a working man who is called into a disaster situation.
The film shows a nuclear warhead, bought by the Americans from the Russians after the end of the cold war, being put on a train by a sleazy firm which dealt in disposals. It was to save taxes and other expenses. When the brakes fail on the train, it goes out of control in a descent into the city of Denver. The president (Edward Herrmann) is notified, he receives advice to bomb the bomb or to derail the train. There is also the problem of the evacuation of the city of Denver.
On the whole, the film shows the ordinary heroic things that could be done in order to stop the train. Rob Lowe acquits himself well. Esai Morales is the former husband of his wife. Mena Suvari (before she became famous in American Beauty) is his daughter.
Contrary to disaster films, the worst happens in this one. The bomb finally detonates and destroys a great part of the city of Denver. While authorities do their best, it is because of initiatives taken by individuals who ignore commands that the disaster finally occurs, an engine driver who thinks he can rescue people from the runaway train actually crashing into it and causing disaster as well as helicopter pilots getting water to pour on the fire which only aggravates chemicals and leads to the final explosion. The film is a salutary warning about expertise, orders, decisions. The film is in the line of thrillers which use the availability of nuclear weapons as a means for disaster, some of the James Bond films of the period, spoofs like Royce, big-budget thrillers like The Peacemaker and The Sum of All Fears.
1. An interesting and entertaining disaster thriller? Plausible? The threat to a major American city? The bomb actually going off and the consequences?
2. The title, the cargo on the train, expectations of a bomb on a train, its being defused, its being detonated and the consequences?
3. The Colorado settings, the city of Denver, the mountainside, the rail track, the bridges? Realistic? The musical score and the suspense tone?
4. The prologue, the train derailed, the potential dangers, chemical spills? The authorities having to cope? Clean up? The presentation of American Rail, the trains, the cargos, the Denver control, the electronic management of safety of the rail?
5. The introduction to Jack and his family, Grace and her teenage rebellion, Chance and his being with his mother but missing his father? The sports event and Chance being spoken to severely by his father? Jack and the decision to take him mountain-climbing? Wanting to bond with him? On the mountain, the phone call to come for the emergency, Chance in the helicopter, seeing Jack descend onto the train? His going to Denver, warning his mother? The response of the family to Jack's danger, the television presentation of the disaster? Grace, with her boyfriend, not in school? The phone call, Grace and her bringing the boyfriend, the people looting and hitting the car, his injury? Her getting home, getting her stepmother to pick up the boyfriend, the move from the city, the contact with Mac? Mac and his advice, gathering his family together for safety?
6. The family situation, the new marriage, the children, the relationship with Mac? His role as police chief? The beginning of the looting, looking from the helicopter? Going to the gas station, the self-appointed militia pulling guns, the shootings? The escape from Denver, the owl and its hitting the motorbike, his injuries? Chance on the broken ladder, Grace getting help, Jack and the rescue? Finally getting to the shelter on the Kansas border?
7. The company and its smuggling the nuclear weapon onto the train, covering it up, signing the documents? Questionable money deals? The phone call to indicate to the authorities that there was a bomb on the train?
8. The train driver, his assistant, the other members of the crew? The brakes failing, the fire? The courage of the driver, his good sense? The following train, its pursuing the cargo train, Jack and his being lowered onto it from the helicopter, the coupling of the train, the inability to slow the train down? The sand barriers? Jack and his getting on the cargo train?
9. The president, his advisers, the plans to bomb the bomb or to find other means, derailment? The advisers? The personality of the president, his calm, his addresses to the nation, morale-boosting? The mayor of Denver and her speech?
10. The reaction of the population, the worst in human nature, the immediate looting, the traffic jams, people pulling others from vehicles? The brutality, the self-appointed militia?
11. The nuclear experts, their advice, the engine crashing into the train and making it necessary for a final derailment, the actual derailment and Jack and the driver getting off? The flames? Reuben and his decision to go in and defuse the bomb? The liquids, the decision of the helicopter pilot to pour the water, the explosion and the detonation of the bomb?
12. The bomb and its effect, visually, the destruction of Denver? The people, Jack and his family hiding in the open tubes? The deaths, the lack of fallout till later?
13. The film as an action adventure, disaster film, portrait of a family, portrait of heroism, the threat to the United States of unbridled technology and rogue behaviour? The film as a warning?