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Track 29 (1988)

Courtesy of HandMade plc

Main image of Track 29 (1988)
35mm, colour, 90 mins
DirectorNicolas Roeg
Production CompanyHandMade Films
Producer Rick McCallum
ScreenplayDennis Potter
PhotographyAlex Thomson
MusicStanley Myers

Cast: Theresa Russell (Linda Henry); Gary Oldman (Martin); Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Henry Henry); Colleen Camp (Arlanda); Sandra Bernhard (Nurse Stein); Seymour Cassel (Dr. Bernard Fairmont)

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Troubled housewife Linda Henry is visited by a man claiming to be her long-lost son Martin. But is he all that he seems to be?

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As a proposition, the combination of a Dennis Potter script being filmed by Nicolas Roeg with Gary Oldman in the leading role must have looked irresistibly enticing. At the time, Potter had just received the best notices of his career with The Singing Detective (BBC, tx. 1986) and Oldman was increasingly regarded as one of the most exciting actors of his generation.

It's also easy to see what attracted them to this material. For Potter, the notion of men wanting to return to childhood is a development of themes from Blue Remembered Hills (BBC, 1979), and the pivotal rape by an almost demonic figure is straight out of Brimstone and Treacle (BBC, 1977). Roeg had been fascinated with the idea of outsiders (Walkabout, 1970; The Man Who Fell To Earth, 1976) and the notion of performance (Performance, co-d. Donald Cammell, 1970). And as Martin, the potentially prodigal son who seeks to recapture what he sees as his lost childhood, Oldman is given an opportunity for grandstanding (and tantrum-throwing) on a spectacular scale, without having to worry about whether his character is at all convincing - because he may just be a figment of an alcoholic woman's imagination.

But unlike Roeg's great films of the 1970s, Track 29 is too schematic to be especially involving. Potter plays his key dramatic cards too quickly, and once the central situation is established, there's little forward momentum. The first half-hour is genuinely intriguing, as British hitch-hiker Martin arrives in a small North Carolina town and invades the home of sexually and emotionally frustrated housewife Linda Henry (Theresa Russell), claiming to be the son that was taken away from her two days after his birth. Meanwhile, her husband Henry (Christopher Lloyd) has almost totally cut her out of his life, preferring his lavish model train set and an affair with one of the nurses at the clinic where he works. Unsurprisingly, since he is just as infantile as Martin, their encounters involve spanking rather than sex.

So far so highly promising, but once it's been established at a relatively early stage that Martin may not actually exist, there's nowhere left for the film to go. Oldman and Russell attack their roles with gusto, and Roeg's characteristically inventive cross-cutting reaches a frenzy in two key set-pieces. But long before the deliberately mystifying final scenes, this particular train has run out of both track and steam.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Culture clash (3:10)
2. The lost years (5:11)
3. All aboard! (3:35)
Production stills
Lawson, Tony
Oldman, Gary (1958-)
Potter, Dennis (1935-1994)
Roeg, Nicolas (1928-)
HandMade Films