Mr Hackman is well into his mature phase by the time of this movie. Gone is the brashness of Popeye Doyle that set his career alight in 'The French Connection'. By now he has perfected his singular technique of a nervous, self-conscious snigger, followed immediately by a forlorn, introspective expression. A little 'business' from the 'method' school of acting that has now become his trade mark. See him in 'The Firm' and you will know what I mean. In each movie he plays a lawyer - one good, one bad - but both acted identically. He is basically playing the same character in each. It works - but it's cheap.
Coming back to this movie, there are the formulaic elements. A fat, cynical detective (ably played by the reliable Emmet Walsh) you just know is going to come unstuck. Baddies with machine guns who can't knock the skin off a rice pudding, a quick blast of pyrotechnics, a car chase, and an inevitable finale on the train roof. How many times have we seen that? There is an encounter with a femme fatale (another baddie) that is so amateurish, even a child could tell it was a set-up. Mr Goodman adds a little tragic humour. The scenery through which the train is passing creates a wonderfully photogenic set. It's a director's delight - which is probably why we see trouble on trains so often at the movies. There is a short but extremely spectacular railway ride over the White Pass of Alaska and down to Skagway on its coast. I guess movie moguls don't get up that way very often, otherwise it would have featured in a dozen dramas by now.
Hackman's nervous anti-hero gradually forced into serious action is what keeps this movie up to speed with the train. Again, it's formulaic, but it's good. Well worth a watch. Replace Hackman with Steven Segal and you have 'Under Siege 2'. You're also down to 4 out of 10.
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