Narrow Margin plays like a TV pilot for Gene Hackman as a crusading (but big mouthed) district attorney. There’s not a lot of depth to the characters and Hyams is never able, even with some great Panavision composition throughout, to make it feel cinematic. Maybe it’s the lack of establishing shots.
Most of the film takes place on a train as Hackman tries to protect uncooperative witness Anne Archer from the mob. But Hyams’s plotting is all action oriented. There are only two character moments in the entire picture. One is for James Sikking as a bad guy, as he banters with Hackman. It’s a great scene as far as dialogue; Sikking is excellent in the film. The other character moment is for Archer and she’s awful. She’s slight throughout the whole film, but she fails her monologue. Sadly, Hyams’s direction of the scene–and James Mitchell’s editing of it–is fantastic.
If it weren’t for Archer, the film would probably be a little bit more successful, but not much. It’s a quick and easy (and presumably cheap) thriller and there’s not enough time to make it good. Hyams tries to bring in a cast of suspects on the train, but it’s only a handful of people. Narrow Margin always feels a little too cramped.
Hackman’s good in the film, even though it doesn’t give him much to do.
Hyams’s photography is good, sometimes great; he really seems to like trains.
Great Bruce Broughton score.
Narrow Margin is almost okay.
Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Hyams, based on a screenplay by Earl Fenton and a story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Joel Schiller; produced by Jonathan A. Zimbert; released by Tri-Star Pictures.
Starring Gene Hackman (Caulfield), Anne Archer (Carol Hunnicut), James Sikking (Nelson), J.T. Walsh (Michael Tarlow), M. Emmet Walsh (Sgt. Dominick Benti), Susan Hogan (Kathryn Weller), Nigel Bennett (Jack Wootton), J.A. Preston (Martin Larner), Kevin McNulty (James Dahlbeck) and Harris Yulin (Leo Watts).