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Man on the Train (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

Man on the Train


Starring Jean Rochefort, Johnny Hallyday, Jean-Françoise Stévenin, Charlie Nelson, Pascal Parmentier, Isabelle Petit-Jacques, Edith Scob, Maurice Chevit, Riton Liebman, Olivier Fauron, Véronique Kapoyan and Elsa Duclot.

Screenplay by Claude Klotz.

Directed by Patrice Leconte.

Distributed by Paramount Classics Pictures. 90 minutes. Rated R.

It is rare that a film looks unflinchingly at a friendship between men without placing sex, money, or power as roadblocks to overcome. Man on the Train is a surprisingly beautiful and complex vision of two very different men at crossroads in their lives. They meet by chance when an aging bank robber named Milan (played by Gallic rock star Johnny Hallyday) steps off a train in the sleepy little French hamlet where a retired literature teacher named Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) has lived his entire existence in the same house. Both men are coming up on turning points in their life the upcoming Saturday at 10:00. Manesquier is due for life-threatening surgery and Milan is going back for one more bank robbery.

Though polar opposites in most ways – Manesquier is a compulsive talker who natters on about anything and nothing, while Milan spends his words carefully and grudgingly – each man is exceedingly open to the opportunity for companionship. They spend a few brief days together in Manesquier’s rundown home, eating, drinking, talking, looking at the stars, quietly and insightfully exploring themselves and their lives.

They find a strange kinship in the fact that they appreciate the other’s lifestyle more than their own. The teacher envies the glamour and excitement he imagines of the robber’s life, while the criminal longs for the simple pleasures that the scholar has long since lost passion for. Milan teaches Manesquier how to fire a gun and the older man helps the robber appreciate little things like slippers and piano. But most importantly, I think the men become friends simply because they recognize each other as men of integrity and kindness.

The direction by Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire, Girl on the Bridge, The Hairdresser’s Husband) is stately and considered and beautiful. The acting is spectacular. Rochefort is able to convey a lifetime of repression and anger in his weary gaze. Hallyday (who may be a singing hero in his native land but is not really known for his acting) is a revelation as Milan, a hardened man who knows he can’t change his nature, but longs to be able to.

Their lives intersect and cross, yet at the same time they can’t deny their own destiny. They both go forward inexorably to their own fate, but they do in some subtle way get to experience the other’s life. Man on the Train is a gorgeous reminder to know what you want, but also to appreciate what you have.  (5/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved. Posted: July 6, 2003.

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