Cinema Review: Man on the Train

DIR: Mary McGuckian PRO: Mary McGuckian, Martin Katz, James
Morris, Karen Wookey DOP: Stefan von Bjorn ED: Matthew Booth DES:
Jennifer Carrol Cast: Donald Sutherland, Larry Mullen Jr, Graham
Greene, Kate O’Toole

Released back in 2002, L’homme du train (translated as The Man On The
Train) was an award-winning Gallic crime-drama by Patrice Leconte,
which went down a storm at that year’s Venice Film Festival. It told
of the chance encounter between a retired poetry professor and a bank
robber, who develop a strong bond over a short period of time, despite
being polar opposites to each other.

Veteran French actor Jean Rochefort starred as former academic
Manesquier, alongside Johnny Hallyday as criminal Milan. Despite
having a number of acting credits to his name before the film, the
casting of Parisian native Hallyday was seen as a curious choice, as
he is best known internationally for his prowess as a rock ‘n’ roll
singer, leading to him being described as the ‘French Elvis Presley’.

However, the triumvriate of Leconte, Rochefort and Hallyday proved to
be a successful one, as the film performed extremely well in the
foreign market, grossing more than $7.5 million off a budget of $5
million.

Fast forward 11 years, and we are treated to an English language
remake from Northern Irish director Mary McGuckian, which is now being
screened exclusively in IFI Cinemas. Taking on the role of the elderly
professor is legendary screen actor Donald Sutherland and, repeating
the trick of L’homme du train, in the role of the thief we have Larry
Mullen Jr, U2’s drummer and founding member.

With the action transferred to a quiet Canadian town, Mullen Jr’s
Thief pulls into the local railway station hoping to pull of a heist
in the nearby bank, a task that he anticipates will go off with a
hitch.

With the town’s hotel closed upon his arrival, he is welcomed to the
home of Sutherland’s septuagenarian, who is set to have heart surgery
on the same day that Mullen Jr and his crew are set to stage their
bank robbery.

As the days go by leading up to their respective events, the two men
develop an unexpected friendship, and though the precise nature of his
house guest eventually becomes clear to Sutherland, it doesn’t prevent
both parties from yearning for each other’s lives.

Given McGuckian’s status as an independent filmmaker, it comes as no
surprise that the small, intimate nature of the original is
maintained, and in many ways the new incarnation is even more
ambiguous and enigmatic than its French counterpart (the characters of
Sutherland and Mullen Jr are listed simply as ‘The Professor’ and ‘The
Thief’).

However, the biggest problem the film faces is the lack of spectacle
that you would usually associate with English language remakes,
because at a running time of 100 minutes (which is 10 minutes longer
than the Leconte version) its pace is far too leisurely to keep
audiences actively involved in the drama.

The main interest of the film, though, will undoubtedly be the
big-screen debut of Mullen Jr, and despite having an understandably
limited range and a soft voice that doesn’t entirely compliment his
muscular presence, Mullen Jr. acquits himself reasonably well, and any
faults that the film has doesn’t lie at his door.

As the more experienced of the two, it is no surprise that Sutherland
offers a more nuanced performance, and after a series of films (The
Hunger Games, The Eagle, The Mechanic, Horrible Bosses) where he was
taking minor parts that didn’t stretch his considerable range to an
enormous degree, it is refreshing to see him given a leading role that
has genuine substance and emotional depth attached to it.

Aside from acting in the film, Mullen Jr also worked on the score
along with Simon Clime, and together they have conjured up an
efficient, if somewhat repetitive, beat that kicks in during vital
stages in the film’s development. Having attracted plenty of criticism
for her experimental multi-camera approach on 2005’s Rag Tale,
McGuckian and cinematographer Stefan von Bjorn wisely opt to keep
things simple here, and what they produce is quite often pleasing on
the eye.

Ultimately, the film will mainly be of interest to avid fans of
Sutherland and Mullen Jr, and those who are intrigued by the set-up
would be better served checking out the original. With A Thousand
Times Good Night due for release later this year, Mullen Jr’s acting
career is set to have some sort of longevity, but despite the best of
intentions, Man on the Train will more than likely be remembered as a
stepping stone rather than a true game changer.

Daire Walsh

101 mins

Man on the Train is released on 11th January 2013

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