Narrow Margin 1990 Movie Scene Gene Hackman as Robert Caulfield and Anne Archer as Carol on top of the train trying to run from the bad guys

Narrow Margin [1990]

Gripping from the get-go, Narrow Margin is a suspenseful thriller taking place aboard a train. I don’t know about you but I love these train movies. The sense of claustrophobia and this kinetic motion add a lot to an already intense atmosphere. The story is as old as time as we follow a prosecutor trying to keep his witness alive in time for the trial against a big mob boss. A classic late eighties/early nineties formula that works surprisingly well more than thirty years later. No fluff, no bullshit, just a classic tale of corruption, crime, and two brave individuals trying to do the right thing.

The script is down-to-earth and relatable with our characters saying and doing things you and I would probably do in that situation. They know very well what they’re getting themselves into and are sometimes forced to make the right decisions. If you see a thriller starring Gene Hackman, you simply know it’s going to be good. And you know our other Rabbit Reviews rule, if a movie is starring J.T. Walsh, it’s going to be good. This time, he receives a bit of assistance from another Walsh, (they’re not related) Mr. M. Emmet Walsh. The cherry on the top was Anne Archer who wasn’t your typical damsel in distress.

Characters in Narrow Margin do not know how to fight and do not have superhuman abilities. There’s no nudity here or brutal murders, just plain old reality boiled down to an effective and thrilling story. Director Peter Hyams already did this with his excellent eighties western in space, Outland. And while there won’t be any space stations here, we will have the opportunity to admire the Canadian Rockies in all their glory. All the while listening to the satisfying clunk-clunk of the train slowly but surely inching its way toward its final destination. 

Carol did not expect that tonight is going to be the night that changes her life completely. She just wanted to have some fun and relax but instead found herself in the middle of a very dangerous situation. At the same time, deputy district attorney Robert Caulfield is frustrated with the lack of progress in his investigation against the mob boss Leo Watts. Soon, destiny is going to bring them together and put them in an even more dangerous situation. Now, they’ll have to use all their wits and skills if they want to survive this journey.

I’m intentionally vague when it comes to the story because Narrow Margin is one of those thrillers you just play and enjoy. I played it really late last night and managed to finish it in one sitting. And if you asked me to tell you more about it, I would, probably for the next ten years. Something you can’t quite say about, for example, Bullet Train, a 2022 movie starring Brad Pitt. Although you could argue that besides the setting, the two movies have almost nothing in common. But you can also find a lot of similarities between them. 

Moving on, I should not forget to mention James Sikking as the smooth bad guy on the train. There was something about his performance and appearance that made him deviously threatening. To counter all of this tension we have the subtle humor, gently defusing it. Probably remanence of the original movie as this is the remake of the 1952 film of the same name. The same can be said about the almost gentlemanly battle of wits between Caulfield and the bad guys.

Director: Peter Hyams

Writers: Peter Hyams, Earl Felton, Martin Goldsmith

Cast: Gene Hackman, Anne Archer, James Sikking, J.T. Walsh, Nigel Bennett, M. Emmet Walsh

Fun Facts: Peter Hyams wanted to do a remake of an older but still sturdy and usuable movie. He spent a lot of time going through forties and fifties relatively unknown movies when he stumbled upon Narrow Margin.


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