Narrow Margin (Special Edition) Blu-ray Review: Strangers on a Canadian Train

Journeyman Peter Hyams did triple duty (director, cinematographer, and screenwriter) on enjoyable albeit formulaic thriller Narrow Margin (1990), a remake of the 1952s’ The Narrow Margin. While the plot is predictable, Gene Hackman’s performance and the action scenes keep the viewer engaged.

While on a blind date in Los Angeles, Carol Hunnicut (Anne Archer) witnesses Michael Tarlow (J.T. Walsh), an underworld attorney unbeknownst to her, murdered because he embezzled from crime boss Leo Watts (Harris Yulin). After learning of her whereabouts in a remote Canadian cabin, deputy district attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) heads out to bring her back to testify. Carol refuses until hitmen show up and shoot up her house. She and Robert’s only mode of escape is a Vancouver-bound train, which the hitmen (including James B. Sikking) board as well.

Robert makes some smart moves as he strives to keep Carol safe on the journey. He has to be sharp in mind and body, staying a step ahead of the hitmen. He engages them in the bar car around other travelers and with fisticuffs when alone with them. Hackman participated in a number of the stunts, adding a level of believability and authenticity to those scenes.

Unfortunately, Robert also makes dumb moves that only seem decided by the heavy hand of Hyams to force the plot along. When Carol’s hideaway is shot up, it’s clear to Robert (and the audience) there is a leak in the DA’s office. However, he believes it’s the District Attorney with only a hunch to go on, allowing him to pass on information about his whereabouts to the first person he speaks to at DA’s office. His judgment is again called into when question when he suspects an unidentified person is assisting the two hitmen on the train. He suspects one individual he has encountered, but it’s so obvious to anyone who has seen a few movies where the danger lies.

The video is presented in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The colors look natural and blacks are inky. Film grain is apparent. Frequently, Hyams directs the viewer’s eye to what’s taking place in the foreground where objects look sharp while the backgrounds have a softer, diffused focus.

The audio is available in 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Lossless Audio. The 5.1 track presents clears dialogue from the actors. Bruce Broughton’s score and the effects fill the surrounds. Train sounds dominate the track once the trip begins to create ambiance, growing louder when outside the train. However, they aren’t positioned nor pan across channels. Some of the sounds are too loud, such as the gun with silencer that kills Tarlow and the chopper in distress, the latter of which distorts the track. During a train POV shot racing along the tracks causes distortion as well,

  • Extras include an audio commentary by Hyams (who doesn’t start talking until after the opening credits so don’t worry) discussing different aspects of creating the film, and a second by journalist/historian Peter Tonguette.
  • Making of Featurette (5 min) – an EPK promoting the film
  • Selected Sound Bites (10 min) – short interview clips with Hyams, Hackman, Archer, Sikking, and producer Jonathan A. Zimbert.
  • B-Rolls (10 min) – offer behind-the-scenes looks at the cast and crew working
  • Trailers for Narrow Margin, Prime Cut, The Package, Company Business.

Peter Hyams’s Narrow Margin conducts itself well as a thriller although the script sticks too much to the formula at times, reducing the suspense and surprise. Gene Hackman’s performance reminds people why he is a leading man. The story could have been stronger if Archer’s character was more active instead of hiding much of the time. The Blu-ray delivers a satisfying picture and the audio complements the high-def experience more often than not. I am glad to see previously released extras included.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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