Short version: The Midnight Meat Train fulfills expectations in the gore department, but completely surprises by providing a solid story as well.
Screen Rant reviews The Midnight Meat Train
[Editor's Note: This is Bruce Simmons' first "official" movie review for Screen Rant]
First, I have to preface this with the fact that I have not seen a lot of films based on Clive Barker's work. The idea of excessive gore just doesn't work for me and I tend to dodge or duck movies that contain it. If I find myself stuck in a movie like this, I tend to squint. It blurs the details and I can get through it. My only exposure to Barker's work has been Hellraiser and Candyman. I remember being grossed out with Hellraiser, but that's that. I've usually run screaming from the room when I hear a Clive Barker project is coming on the screen. It's embarrassing, really, but I can't help it.
I watched The Midnight Meat Train (screenplay by Jeff Buhler) on FEARnet.com and sat through the standard character development that at first seemed fairly mundane. But being mundane, it just sets you up for later developments. Japanese filmmaker, director Ryûhei Kitamura did his job with this one.
Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer looking to take his photography to the next level and have it displayed in an art gallery, hoping for his first break. He likes photographing the city and things within it, but it's not enough for the prominent art gallerist Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields). She wants him to take it the next level and get more grit, more of the real emotion of the city.
His pursuit of this darker element of the city takes his path across a stoic, wordless, meticulous butcher named Mahogany. No, really, that's his day job! A butcher. Mahogany is played by Vinnie Jones. You might remember him as Juggernaut from X-Men: The Last Stand.
As Leon delves into the background of Mahogany, things get more complicated as he realizes that he's on the trail of what looks like a serial killer. Mahogany apparently has killed many people, and dumps the unfortunate victims off somewhere. He locates his victims on the late train of the day, as the title suggests.
Pursuing this murderer sucks Leon and his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb) into the intricate situation of why Mahogany does what he does. And let me tell you, it is not only a complete surprise, but the infrastructure of people who know what he's doing is surprising as well. The real shock comes in the the nature of the real threat and the resolution of the situation.
Despite my really wanting to say how the story ends, to say anything more would ruin how you get set up for the story and the payoff. (Sorry)
Bradley Cooper delivers a great performance. From being the ever hopeful, struggling and hard working photographer to the traumatized victim of circumstance, he is rather believable. I was a little gray on the end game, but I still really enjoyed the twist end and could overlook the vagueness of how he got there.
Brooke Shields has come a long way from an innocent girl on an island, to Suddenly Susan and most recently, the hard working executive on Lipstick Jungle. In Midnight Meat Train, she's an art gallery owner who prefers her male photographers good looking and single. Her role is integral to Leon's projection into his predicament, but not much more. It's a believable but short role.
Leslie Bibb (I just saw her in Iron Man... as the reporter who ignites the fires under Tony Stark) plays a role that confused me. At first, she's the supportive girlfriend who's behind her photog boyfriend. As Leon discovers the truth behind Mahogany, Maya tries to dissuade him from getting too deep in this dark assignment. In the end, she gets right in the middle of it and it just doesn't gel with me, but that's fine. Her role fulfills a piece of plot destiny by the tale's end.
Maybe I'm off in the head a bit, but I liked English-born actor and ex-footballer, Vinnie Jones. His portrayal of Mahogany is stoic and silent, yet his message is delivered clearly. The main tool of his hobby is a massive silver hammer/meat tenderizer. Whether he uses it as a tool of crime or weapon of defense, he puts this hammer to good use. Almost like a modern day, dark Thor. His silent approach to the character does not hamper his role one bit. His victims are treated just like as he would slabs of meat at his day job: He meticulously dresses their bodies before taking their bodies to his dumping ground.
I can't believe it, but I may actually be looking forward to this when it hits the DVD world in February of 2009. If you don't mind gore, I think you'd come away really enjoying this particular 1 hour and 40 minute train ride, all the way through to the end of the day, or midnight that is.