'Train' takes a traditional path

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Plenty of European filmmakers envy Hollywood's flair for action, special effects, and eye-filling fantasy. But some are holding the line for more traditional values, focusing on real human interests conveyed by sensitive acting and subtle cinematography.

For an engaging example of this old-school approach, see "Man on the Train," directed by Patrice Leconte, one of France's most respected filmmakers.

The heroes are aging men played by Jean Rochefort, a venerable French star, and Johnny Hallyday, a pop icon whose decades-long career refuses to quit.

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If this were an American movie, like the typical Robert Redford or Woody Allen vehicle, these craggy-faced senior citizens would be strutting their stuff, cruising the singles scene, and romancing women who were born around the time they got their first Oscar nominations.

French cinéastes are more grown-up about such matters, though, so Mr. Rochefort and Mr. Hallyday are maturing gracefully. Their characters in "Man on the Train" aren't exactly everyday gents, but they have the virtue of acting their age.

Rochefort plays a retired poetry teacher who's discovered that a comfy pair of slippers is at least as delightful as a well-turned metaphor.

Hallyday plays an over-the-hill robber who's not certain his gang can shoot straight enough to knock over the bank they've chosen. Their friendship starts by chance and ends too quickly, but it blossoms long enough to make each man wonder if his chosen way of life has been as fulfilling as it seemed.

"Man on the Train" is less memorable than "Monsieur Hire" and "The Widow of Saint-Pierre," which remain Leconte's most notable pictures. Heartfelt performances make up for some stodgy dialogue and corny moments, though. And it's nice to know some filmmakers still have a foot firmly planted in old-fashioned humanistic storytelling.

Rated R; contains violence and sexual dialogue.

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