The Man on the Train (L’Homme du Train) is a gentle character study, with a touch of Sliding Doors, for the grey-haired set.Retired gunslinger Milan (Johnny Hallyday) rides into a small French town, not on a horse but a train, for one last bank heist. The hotel is closed, so he ends up staying with Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), after a chance meeting at a pharmacy. Where Milan is the archetypal gruff and taciturn tough guy, the former poetry teacher is cultured and loquacious, increasingly aware that his life has held no danger and little worth remembering. Slowly an unlikely bond develops, along with an increasing desire for each man to swap lives with the other.
Hallyday and Rochefort contribute masterly, polished performances. The film is set in November and director Patrice Leconte (Ridicule) and cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou shroud the film in misty greys and autumnal colours to underline the theme of aging and impending death. “We get more precious as the years pass”, remarks one of the characters, but the depressing conclusion seems to be that each man is ultimately powerless to change who and what he is. Claude Klotz’s story plods on somewhat predictably into the gathering wintry gloom. When Leconte and Klotz try on a more upbeat, fantastical finish, they merely end up looking silly.
Still, the spry Rochefort delivers his lines with snap. My favourite? After 30 years of the same style, Manesquier asks his barber for a shorter haircut, somewhere between fresh out of prison and world class football player. You know you’re watching a film for an older generation when the director parallels the climactic bank heist with heart surgery. An American remake, with Clint Eastwood as Milan, seems inevitable.If the 50th Sydney Film Festival were a restaurant, The Man on the Train is the vintage cheese that concludes your meal and prompts thoughts of retiring for the evening.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.