Narrow Margin1990

Director: Richard Fleischer
Stars: Gene Hackman, James Sikking
Genre: Film-Noir, Thriller
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 99 minutes

Back in 1952, during the waning days of film noir, director Richard Fleischer made The Narrow Margin, a cheaply produced, tightly structured B movie thriller about a cop forced to protect a gangster's widow while on a train. While it's no work of art, Fleischer's noir features a shocking climax of mistaken identity, an ominous, claustrophobic atmosphere, and tough, nearly unlikable protagonists screwed by fate, who spout sharp-witted dialogue and feel little more than contempt for each other. When Hollywood remakes itself, all the understatement and charm is usually lost when the filmmakers try to "modernize" the subject matter. This is one of many problems with writer-director Peter Hyams's remake (given the slightly shorter title Narrow Margin). He's dumped the surprising plot twist (it's now an action set piece atop a moving train) and softened the characters (now played with sleepwalking intensity by Gene Hackman and Anne Archer) with preposterous motivations. All that seems to be intact is the train premise, but Hyams is more interested in its action potential than any kind of menacing atmosphere. He's dropped the ambiguous relationships and smart dialogue in favor of pumping up the action sequences and daredevil stunts to ridiculous levels. Instead of adding excitement, all Hyams's expensive tricks do is drain Narrow Margin of any tension it might've retained from the original. --Dave McCoy

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