It’s the cold 1870s Nevada. There’s an outbreak of diphtheria at a garrison and an express train loaded with medical supplies traverses through the steep snowy mountains to supply the ill.
Also on this locomotive is a Governor (Richard Crenna), his mistress (Jill Ireland), a U.S. Marshal (Ben Johnson), an Army Major (Ed Lauter), a caboose of reinforcement soldiers and a ‘wanted man’ (Charles Bronson) who is really a secret service agent on a mission.
A whole lot of suspicion erupts when folks start to get murdered and go missing on this trip. And wait a second, is it really medical supplies that are being hauled on this train?
No one is who they say they are. Gunfights, train top brawls, accusations, a gang of outlaws and an attacking tribe of Indians make this anything but a leisurely train ride.
It all sounds more exciting than it ends up. Heartbreak Pass is a fine light diversion with few highlights. It’s got a great cast who are all fun to watch and there’s some thrilling action pieces around the train, old school fights and stunts, along with some very explosive moments. Bronson fans will probably enjoy it more than the average viewer.
It has a lot going for it, but the story just doesn’t gel and never really hooks me in.
It begins as sort of a ‘Murder on the Orient Express‘ western style tale. A claustrophic steam-powered battle between these characters with Brosnan trying to figure out who to trust and who to kill. As the train pulls out for this perilous journey, it looks like it has all the ingredients for an entertaining actioner. A suspenseful train ride, an intriguing story, an impressive cast and Bronson during his peak years to bring it all together.
Then it quickly seques into a very standard shoot-em up whose story really doesn’t have much mystery to it. I imagine the novel by Alistair MacLean the film is based on was better and was perhaps a bit more of a page turner with the reader, anxiously awaiting to find out what each characters true motivations are. With the casting the film does, you can pretty easily pick out who’s behind what and who’s not being truthful. I mean it’s pretty predictable casting choices here and just by their appearances they telegraph the characters secrets each have.
So, watching it felt a bit like riding a very straight rail line with no curves or unexpected turns. I wasn’t surprised by any of the story.
On the plus side, the movies does contain some great old school stunts and wild train wrecks. I mean, some are really very well done!
There’s an exciting scene of Bronson fighting a bad guy on top of the train and the guys are hanging off the side of it dangling over a ravine, and it’s impressive as hell! The guys really look like they’re close to buying it.
Also, Jerry Goldsmith provides a terrific western score to the movie. Some of the tracks playing while we watch this locomotive travel through the snowy scenery got my heart racing and feet tapping. It certainly put me in the mood for a fun western actioner or even wanting to take a nice train ride through the wilderness.
It’s great to see folks like Crenna, Durning and Lauter play off Bronson, who does his tried and true taciturn anti-hero character. Somehow all the actors don’t really seem too passionate about their roles and just kind of go through the motions. It’s a great cast and it’s nice to see them all sharing the screen, but unfortunately they can’t do much to elevate the story and none one of them really gets to do anything really memorable in the film.
Ireland doesn’t get to do much at all. Despite her starring alongside Bronson so frequently, I never thought she was ever that good of an actress and regardless of her being his real life wife, have thought many times a lot of his movies would have been better had he allowed to case a different leading lady for him.
For Bronson fans this will probably satisfy. It has enough fun action bits and macho staredowns that will provide a Bronson fix. And he does look awfully cool throughout the film. For others, I don’t think it will be a an action/western/mystery that will keep them glued to their seat.
Here’s the trailer, which not surprisingly gives away a lot of the best bits from the film. I wish the movie itself was as exciting as the trailer makes it seem.
Have to agree with you on every point you made. I saw ‘Breakheart Pass’ several years ago and it doesn’t all add up to a greater whole. I always like the Goldsmith theme, it’s always good to see character actors like Huddleston and Lautner and any film with both Crenna and Durning gets a bonus. What did strike me was how efficient an actor/star Bronson was. He seems to be playing the role in a low key, casual way, but he speaks, moves and interacts with cast and props in a effective way at all times. It’s deceptive. You’re right about some of the set pieces. They are impressive.