Dir: Mary McGuckian
This quiet, thoughtful film follows two men from opposite sides of the tracks and their contemplation of what might have been. Leisurely paced and light on plot, the story is driven by the disparate yet intriguing leads and their unlikely friendship.
A retired Professor (Donald Sutherland) putters about his cluttered manor counting down the days till his heart surgery. A grim-faced Thief (Larry Mullen Jr) rolls into town planning to rob the bank. Gradually, the two men develop an envious fascination with each other and find themselves longing for the other’s life.
Described as a translation rather than an adaptation of Patrice Leconte’s 2002 L’homme du Train, McGuckian’s film is unfailingly faithful to the story and style of the original. The movie’s strengths lie in its characters – veteran actor Sutherland, clearly enjoying his role as the loquacious, self-deprecating Professor, is well countered by Mullen, in his acting debut, as the stoic, cynical Thief. Watching the two try on each other’s personas and contemplate the consequences of their choices makes this an absorbing exploration of identity.
Yet this is far from the heist thriller some might expect. The small-town setting is almost bleak, the score is simple, the few supporting players have little to do and the sporadic dialogue is heavy with literary references and grandfatherly words of wisdom. The film takes its time to get going, and moves slowly towards a somewhat foreseeable climax. Those with the patience to see it through are rewarded with a thought-provoking, yet deliberately ambiguous pay-off.
Man on the Train doesn’t break any cinematic ground, but it is an interesting piece of storytelling, and people-watchers will enjoy the evolution of the protagonists’ relationship. If you, like me, have trouble laying your hands on the original, the English-language version is an acceptable substitute.