Love on the tracks

 

Night Train (15) Selected cinemas

"You must be all saying, `it's his first feature and he looks about 94'," joked a self-deprecating John Lynch when he introduced his debut feature, Night Train, to an enthusiastic Toronto Film Festival audience last year. Lynch clocked up decades of experience directing drama at RTE, from The Riordans, Glenroe and Fair City to the RTE/Channel 4 Love Stories collection which included A Painful Case and the award-winning Lovers of the Lake.

Written by the playwright and former Irish Press critic, Aodhan Madden, Night Train features John Hurt as Poole, a middle-aged minor criminal released from prison and on the run from a sadistic gangster (Lorcan Cranitch) to whom he owes a lot of money.

Seeking sanctuary in the Dublin suburbs, he rents a room in the home of an inquisitive widow, Mrs Mooney (Pauline Flanagan) and her mousey daughter, Alice (Brenda Blethyn), who works as a legal secretary. Living next door to Alice and her mother is the even nosier Winnie (Rynagh O'Grady) whose husband (Peter Caffrey) is revealed as the cross-dresser who has been stealing Alice's underwear off the clothes-line.

Dominated and put down by her nagging mother, Alice escapes into the novels of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, while the world-weary Poole amuses himself by constructing a vast train set on the floor of his room. Madden's screenplay subtly brings together these two lonely people in a relationship threatened by the ghosts of Poole's past. Lit in subdued tones by director of photography Seamus Deasy, Night Train was filmed mostly in Dublin, but incorporates footage shot on location in Venice and aboard the Orient Express, a model of which is the centrepiece of Poole's train set.

Despite its criminal backgrounding, Night Train is essentially a low-key character study which is allowed to breathe and develop under John Lynch's unshowy, sure-footed direction. And he elicits touching, precisely judged performances from the two remarkably versatile actors at his film's centre, John Hurt and Brenda Blethyn.

Deep Blue Sea (15) General release

The US-based Finnish filmmaker, Renny Harlin, has an evident flair for orchestrating action and effects, as he demonstrated with such gusto in Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Cliffhanger, where the spectacularly staged set-pieces distracted from the banality of the narrative. Since then he appears to have lost his way, most excruciatingly in the infamous and truly wretched Cutthroat Island and in the flashy and inane would-be thriller, The Long Kiss Goodnight.

In his new movie, Deep Blue Sea, Harlin once again seems to be paying all of his attention to the action and effects, and while he pulls off the key set-pieces with aplomb, the movie is seriously undermined by a feeble screenplay which regularly turns risible, never more so than when Samuel L. Jackson launches into a daft soliloquy - which had the New York audience with which I saw the film roaring with derisive laughter.

Jackson is one of a half-dozen indie actors plunged into this formulaic action yarn in which he plays the financier of a project pioneered by a risk-taking English marine biologist (Saffron Burrows) to derive a cure for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's by drawing on protein from the brains of Mako sharks. The international cast also includes Thomas Jane as a daring shark expert, Stellan Skarsgard as a taciturn physicist, Michael Rapaport as a rash engineer, Jacquelin MacKenzie as another biologist, and unfortunately, for light relief, the irritating LL Cool J as a cook named Preacher who has a talking parrot.

As is de rigueur for the genre, most of them will end up as shark meat before the final credits roll, and bored audiences may pass the time by guessing who's next. The capable cast can do nothing with their cliche-type roles, leaving me, for one, rooting for the sharks - which, though mostly animatronic, are rather more convincing than the movie's human creations.