L’Homme du Train



aka The Man on the Train : France 2002 : Patrice LECONTE : 90 mins

Though regarded as a C-list journeyman at home, Leconte’s knack for churning out accessible, unchallengingly old-fashioned, very “French” pictures (Ridicule, The Girl on the Bridge, The Widow of St Pierre) ensures nearly everything he makes gets an international release. There are, it seems, plenty of audiences out there who don’t like their foreign-language moviegoing experiences to be too nouvelle vague‘.

This one is an enjoyable if somewhat slight two-hander in which an unnamed veteran crook (antique rock star Johnny Hallyday, the ‘Gallic Elvis’) forges an unlikely friendship with retired schoolteacher Manesquier (Jean Rochefort, from Lost In La Mancha) while plotting a small-town bank heist. Both men are facing up to the advances of old age – the transition, as Manesquier puts it, from being an ‘adventurer’ to being a ‘planner.’ And with death looming increasingly large (a gardener even appears carrying a thuddingly symbolic scythe at one point) it isn’t long before these apparent polar opposites reveal how much they covet each other’s position.

The central yin-yang thesis is simplistic, the story is predictable and increasingly melodramatic, Leconte’s direction clich-ridden and unimaginative (he’s always been a very un-adventurous ‘planner’) and the ‘metaphysical,’ slo-mo-heavy coda is a bit of a mess. But there are plenty of compensations: Pascal Esteve’s score nimbly switches between a Ry Cooderish guitar (for Hallyday) and Schubertian piano (for Rochefort), strikingly combining them as each man takes on aspects of the other. The sharp dialogue and well-observed characterisations of Claude Klotz’s script, meanwhile, result in an effective actors’ showcase – which the genially oddball Rochefort shamelessly (and very entertainingly) steals from his monosyllabic, iconic, Botox-faced co-star.

17th March, 2003
(seen same day, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle)

by Neil Young