Man on the Train, The

Patrice Leconte has been rightly acclaimed as one of European cinema’s great stylists, but his magnificent new film provides ample proof that there is much more to his work than brilliant technique. Drained of the flashy cinematography and dazzling montages that threatened to overwhelm the human content in his slighter films, L’homme du train is a beautifully observed character study about two very different men who are thrown together by chance and tentatively begin to appropriate each other’s lifestyles. Rock legend Johnny Halliday plays Milan, an ageing criminal who arrives in a small French town with plans to rob the local bank. He’s befriended by Monsieur Manesquier (the wonderful Jean Rochefort, in his seventh film for Leconte), a retired schoolteacher who kindly offers accommodation to the stranger.
It soon becomes apparent that these unlikely companions see something in each other that sparks their imaginations: Manesquier sees in Milan the man of action he always fantasised about becoming, while Milan sees Manesquier as the person he wishes he could someday become, settled into a quiet, comfortable routine. Halliday and Rochefort inhabit their roles with perfect ease, and Leconte draws us into this odd-couple relationship with understated humour and sly intrigue. He delights in playing with genre conventions. The stranger’s arrival in town is shot like a Western, and there’s some comic suspense in Halliday’s meetings with his inept cohorts on the bank job. The film is a delight from start to finish, and all the more effective for its low-key approach to familiar Leconte themes of male friendship, ageing and the allure of sweet
France, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 90 mins.

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