“Do you realize, comrade, the implications of the weapon that has been placed at your disposal?”
With that said, the screenplay isn’t without flaws. My least favorite characters are Lansbury’s political rival (John McGiver) and his gorgeous daughter (Leslie Parrish), who Harvey is immediately smitten with; I can’t quite get a read on how they’re meant to be viewed, though they clearly serve an integral function in the storyline. Meanwhile, Janet Leigh as Sinatra’s love interest is oddly opaque: she approaches the distressed Sinatra with motherly compassion, speaking in what can only be interpreted as some sort of mysterious code — “I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the track on this train.” — then becomes simply a mother-figure Sinatra can lean on for unconditional support during a time of crisis. However, it’s likely she serves a more important function than appearances would indicate (see DVD Savant’s review for an outline of various theories about her character).
The film is quite dark — at times satirically so (as in the depiction of Gregory as a spineless political puppet), and at times much more violently (i.e., the disturbing finale to the brainwashing flashbacks, as well as the cold-blooded assassination scenes). This shifting between tones — along with the continuous edits back and forth in time and between perspectives — add to the overall sense of paranoia and unease. Also instrumental to the film’s success are atmospheric cinematography and strategic direction, including good use of extreme close-ups and deep focus to exaggerate the surrealism of the nightmarish situation. Sinatra’s real-life friendship with the Kennedy family simply adds to its historical intrigue.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: