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The Man on the Train (A Movie Review)

Updated: 1 day ago

The Man on the Train


Starring Donald Sutherland, Larry Mullen Jr., Paula Boudreau, Graham Greene, Kate O’Toole, Greg Byrk, Samuel Jephcott, Graham Greene, Tony Nardi, Carlo Rota, Martin Katz, Kennedy McGuckian, James Shannon Nelligan, Vasilios Pappas, R.D. Reid and Paula Boudreau.

Screenplay by Mary McGuckian.

Directed by Mary McGuckian.

Distributed by Tribeca Film. 100 minutes. Not Rated.

French director Patrice Leconte’s 2002 drama Man on the Train (L’Homme du Train) was one of the great unsung films of the last decade. It got a wide US art house release (or at least as wide as a French meditation on friendship and crime could) and critical acclaim. In fact, it ranked highly on my list of the ten best films of 2003.

When I learned that an English language version was made, I must admit I was cautious. European films that are remade in English much more often than not lose much in translation. For every occasional success, like last year’s Let Me In and hopefully the upcoming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there are many more failures like The Vanishing, 13, Funny Games, Point of No Return, The Killing, Contagion and many more.

Well, for better or worse, Man on the Train remake is extremely faithful to its source material. Of course, it is nice that the source material is treated with respect, but it makes you wonder if a remake was really necessary. The new Man on the Train is very good – but it is not as good as its predecessor. Still, if it’s a way to get the story out there to more people who missed the original, I guess it’s a good thing.

The Man on the Train tells the story of two very different men who meet at crossroads in their lives. One man is an aging professor, very talkative and sheltered in his small-town academia. The other man is a drifting criminal, who happens to be in town for one last big score. They meet by chance at a pharmacy (a scene which somehow felt more realistic in the French version) and become friendly. Since the local hotel is closed for the season, the professor offers to let him stay in his guest room. The professor is chatty and open, the criminal more cautious with his words and thoughts.

However, in an odd way, the others’ life appeals to each of the men. The professor, who has never really taken any risks in his life, envies the criminal’s freedom and adventurous life. The criminal, on the other hand, is drawn to the quiet stability of the professor’s home and the alien comforts of music, shelter and comfy slippers.

As they grow closer and closer, they come to live vicariously through each other.

However, both know it is only temporary – that Saturday both of them have life-altering appointments. The criminal is supposed to be robbing the local bank at the same time the professor has some medical procedure that he prefers to remain vague about.

As stated earlier, the American film sticks very closely to the original template, following scene after scene of the French incarnation. And, luckily, unlike so many other American remakes, they did not feel the need to give it a new ending.

Even the casting is very similar. In the role of the professor is an aging respected actor who rarely gets lead roles this juicy – Donald Sutherland here, Jean Rochefort in France. Sutherland is wondrous in the role, obviously relishing having such a meaty part again, for a change.

The criminal is played by a music star who is not known for his acting. In France it was crooner Johnny Hallyday, in the new version the role is taken on by U2 drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. This role is Mullen’s movie debut (unless you count Rattle and Hum) and he does a quite fine job with it. Then again, he was obviously passionate about the project; he also is one of the film’s producers and he provided the score.

The new version of The Man on the Train is as close to the real thing as you could possibly hope for, still I don’t see why given the choice you wouldn’t just see the original. However, if this movie gets some of Mullen’s U2 fans to learn about the wonderful original, I guess that’s a good thing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: December 23, 2011.


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