Even though I consider myself to be well-rounded when it comes to films, I admit my personal viewing history of French film to be a little lacking. Go Google any top 20 list of French films, and I’ve probably seen maybe two or three of the films. This is very contradictory to say Chinese, Japanese, English (UK), Australian, etc. where I’ve seen hundreds of films. But I’m always willing to expand my repertoire, so I jumped when I saw there was a French crime thriller named L’Homme Du Train or The Man on the Train available for review. Let’s see how it plays out.
As we start, A train runs along the tracks and whips by various locales. We see a man named Milan (played by Johnny Hallyday) who tries to relax, but obviously he can’t. The train finally comes to a stop, and he is only one to get off. He walks through the town, which is somewhat desolate, and finally ends up at a pharmacy. There he asks for some aspirin, which he finally receives. (Unfortunately it’s water-soluble, so he also requires a glass of water).
Shortly after, he is befriended by a former poetry professor named Monsieur Manesquier (played by Jean Rochefort), who offers him a place to sit down at his house and a glass of water for his aspirin. Milan takes him up on it, and they talk about the house and the contents while he unwinds. After the medicine does its trick, Milan leaves to go back into the town.
Milan goes through the desolate town and comes upon the Bar Hotel, the only place for lodging in town. However, it is closed. After considering his lack of options, he makes his way back to the professor’s house. Manesquier meets him and puts him up at the house, as the hotel has been closed for a long time on lack of visitors.
It appears that Milan will be staying through Saturday. They talk for a while longer, and Manesquier leaves Milan to his room. Milan starts to unpack his suitcase, laying out the usual clothes and other dress items. Then he places three guns on the bed and makes sure they are clean and operational. He has a smoke and goes to bed, and we aren’t exactly sure at the moment what awaits him at this sleepy little village, but it’s not good.
As it turns out, Milan is staking out the local bank, as it should be an easy score. A crew that Milan works with soon arrive,s and that’s where things become interesting, so to speak. The focus on this movie is primarily the relationship between Milan and Manesquier. Milan wants a simpler life for himself, and Manesquier has led a very dull life and wants something more exciting. So they each see something in the other that they want to be, but aren’t for numerous reasons.
It’s also a very slow film. The lone action sequence is right at the end of the movie and is an if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it kind of scenario. There is a ton of dialog, and to label this as a thriller is off-putting at best. Hallyday and Rochefort each do a fantastic job of acting, but the writing and pace will leave a lot of viewers asleep. The most unfortunate part is the ending, which is wishy-washy and tries to be two things at once. It really doesn’t succeed at either of them.
The video is in 2.35:1 widescreen. Patrice Leconte, the director, must have a favorite color of blue. Everything outside in this town is given a heavy blue tint to the point where certain parts of the scene are distracting. I’m pretty sure this is intentional, but it does not make for that great of a viewing. There is also a healthy amount of grain, which at times takes some doing to get through.
However, the inside scenes are where the movie really tends to shine, and we get the greater detail that we are looking for. On that end, it’s a fine restoration, as we are able to pick out a lot of things in Manesquier’s mansion for example, as well as the pharmacy or the bank. All in all, a perfectly fine video, but not anything spectacular.
The audio for this one is DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 in French. Subtitles are provided in English and can be turned off (if so desired). Even in 5.1, this film really doesn’t really pop as it is very dialog driven. Furthermore, that dialog as it’s mainly between two characters stays in the front speakers and doesn’t make use of anything in the rear except briefly. Everything sounds okay and there are no major flaws. Again, just hangs there and nothing bad or good can really be said about it.
- Trailers: Man on the Train, Monsieur Hire, The Crimson Rivers, In Bruges, Eastern Promises, Symphony for a Massacre, and The Specialists.
- NOTE: No other special features were on the disc. The disc opens up to the menu and there is only Play, Audio, Subtitles and Trailers.
This film did very well at various film festivals between 2002 all the way to 2004. In particular, it won best actor (Rochefort) and best film at the 2002 Venice Film Festival. It was applauded by critics and fans of French cinema alike. It had a Canadian remake in 2011 with Donald Sutherland as Manesquier and the drummer from U2 as Milan (available on DVD) which I would like to see for nothing more than to see if they change the ending at all. I just unfortunately did not enjoy that much. It’s not a thriller and reminds me of a film/play named American Buffalo in that it spends more time talking than it does working on the crime.
The disc is pretty well done by the folks at Kino. As long as you enjoy the blue tinting it has very good video, and a more than serviceable audio presentation. The extras are unfortunately non-existent. If you enjoy a very slow-paced movie or are quite fond of Johnny Hallyday and his steel blue eyes, then there is certainly room to recommend this one. For everyone else, especially those who don’t watch much French film, those people probably don’t want to spend their time watching this one. Enjoy.