Friday, December 04, 2009

Cassandra wept

The Cassandra Crossing: Really too bad to summarise without going into a lot of detail, but my main problems with it boil down to three areas (warning: spoilers).

1) The plot is solid 1970s disaster movie: a train heading from Geneva to Stockholm turns out to have a man on board infected with some experimental American military virus as well as the World's Greatest Doctor (Richard Harris); cue high-speed shenanigans as the virus spreads while the train hurtles through Europe. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, as that format has lead to some really great movies. But the films which make best use of the genre are those which don't focus on the disaster, so much as on its impact on a variety of little but powerful human dramas: The Towering Inferno, for instance, is less about the fire than about the woman about to make a mistake in marrying Fred Astaire, the woman unhappiliy married to the psychopathic architect, the businessman having an affair with his secretary who gets trapped with her in the burning office... et cetera. There is almost no human drama of this sort in Cassandra, barring two subplots, one about Richard Harris' character getting back together with his ex, and another involving OJ Simpson as an undercover policeman hunting down Martin Sheen (you can read that phrase again if you like). Neither of them are interesting enough to sustain the movie.

2) The scenario is just too unbelievable. The plot twist is that the American military, having discovered the virus is loose on the train, plan to divert the train over a faulty crossing in Poland (yes, in the middle of the Cold War) so that it will crash and they can claim the passengers were all killed in an accident, eradicating the virus and destroying the evidence/witnesses. Um, sorry, but have they thought this one through? Leaving aside the fact that any train crash of this sort would have investigators all over it-- from insurance companies, the train operators, the grieving relatives-- who would immediately expose anything remotely fishy to the press, a whole lot of infected corpses out in the open are a considerably greater risk to public health than a containable train full of sick people (particularly since it's established in the story that the virus is transmissible to animals, so any scavengers would become carriers). Why not just inform the world that the passengers have something rare but plausible-- bubonic plague, swine flu-- and isolate them for three months?

3) Finally, Richard Harris is not a good leading man. He's a good character actor (Harry Potter); he's a good man at playing the leaders of interestingly diverse ensemble casts (The Wild Geese). But he's just not a good leading man (and no, Camelot doesn't count; the whole point of the story is that Arthur is a good leader but just uncharismatic enough that you can understand Guinevere falling in love with Lancelot), and having him as the leading man here is just asking for the camera to go drifting gently off in the direction of OJ Simpson.

Movie count for 2009: 102