Man on the Train (2002)
Man on the Train tells the story of two men who come to meet by chance, and in talking with one another, each begins to wonder if maybe he would be happier with the life of the other man. This is a French film and the pace is slow at times, but the conversations of these men bristle with emotion and humor, and by the time their respective appointments occur at the end of the film, they have both become quite likeable.
An aging bank robber (Johnny Hallyday) arrives by train in a small town for an easy heist, and his first order of business is to go to a drug store for some aspirin. He runs into a retired poetry teacher (Jean Rochefort), who invites him over to his place so that the thief can have a glass of water with his medicine. The teacher, seemingly lonely in his huge old house, tries to strike up conversation, but the thief is reluctant at first. Soon, though, the teacher has invited the thief to stay at his house while he's in town. Coincidentally, they both have appointments at 10:00 on Saturday: the teacher is scheduled for heart surgery, and the thief is scheduled for a robbery.
As they talk, the teacher seems to know what the thief does even before he tells him. He's snooped around and seen his guns, and tried on his leather jacket. The teacher asks prying questions, implying how exciting he thinks the thief's lifestyle is. He seems to have regrets about living a tame life. The thief, meanwhile, is quite impressed with the teacher's quiet life, in a secluded mansion in a small town. He asks if he can borrow a pair of slippers, and the teacher gladly complies. It seems like such a mundane thing, but to a thief, the mundane is out of the ordinary. The teacher says that he would love to come and help the thief out with his robbery, but his previous engagement with the surgery precludes him from doing so. The final scenes use visual poetry in lieu of words, and it's probably better that way.
There is nothing terribly flashy about Man on the Train, but it has a kind of quiet beauty to it. It sucks the viewer into its story, which is simple, but filled with character quirks that make each one of these men much more than their chosen profession. You hardly ever think about an aging thief regretting his past and wishing for a boring life, but I suppose it happens, probably just as often as a person who has lived a boring life wishes for something more dramatic. For the few days that these men become acquaintances, each gets a glimpse of the other side.
March 28, 2005