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"Man on the Train"

Directed by Patrice Leconte.
Written by Claude Klotz. 
Starring Johnny Hallyday and Jean Rochefort.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  5/29/03 


Ahh, those Frenchies are at it again!  One of the biggest surprises of my year thus far, “Man on the Train” is just a great, great, great film that features as pure a set of filmmaking production values as you are going to find.

As the title suggests, a man named Milan (Johnny Hallyday) is riding a train when the film opens; he is coming to central France because he has something he needs to take care of.  Soon after his arrival, he meets a poetry teacher named Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) that puts him up for a few days before Milan needs to take care of his business.  Although we are not told initially just what that crafty Milan is up to, he has a bevy of weapons that he has brought with him to complete his operation.  Manesquier, retired from his original job as a professor and living out his days wondering what would have been in relation to women, his career, his wishes to have once been the stereotypical American cowboy.  As the week rolls towards both Milan’s assignment and Manesquier’s fate, the two men form a bond that can only be described as “damned cool.”

But, what makes it cool?  Well, you have to see it to know what I mean.  I can’t even think of an American film that has attempted this kind of camaraderie; in some respects, the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the “Men in Black” films is close, because you look at those two guys and think “There is just no way in hell that those two would ever be friends” and some of that can relate to how the leads in “Man on the Train” interact as well.  The bigger component might be that in the two French leads, you have a 50-something hitman on his way out of the business, and a senior citizen that is as full of life as someone half his age.  The conversations between Milan and Manesquier are deep, but never preachy; insightful, but never too intellectual; poignant, but never over-the-top.  Director Patrice Leconte uses silence to his advantage throughout the film, and his static shots and close-ups of his leads are cool, yet show the pain and strife of what a long life can do to even the most pleasant of souls.

In what might be the film’s best scene, you have Manesquier going to his barber to get a trim.  We find out that he has been visiting this cat for something like 30 years, and Manesquier always gets the same style cut.  He plops into the chair, gets the apron thrown on, and then he breaks out with

“I’m going to get something...different today.”

The barber is shellshocked.  His facial reaction as his client, who has ordered the same thing every month for more than 350 consecutive months, was absolutely priceless.  That scene alone was almost worth the nine bucks.  Not showing everywhere, but surely this will be on video near you sometime this year.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09