Release Date(s)2002 (April 11, 2023)
Studio(s)Pathé/Paramount Classics (Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D-
Patrice Leconte’s Man on the Train (aka L’homme du train) is a compelling examination of the relationship between two very different men who find themselves thrust together by fate. In the broadest genre terms, it falls under the rubric of a crime thriller, yet in many ways it’s arguably a modern western—although the intimate nature of the story would put it in the category of a chamber western. Of course, Man on the Train is really a character study at heart, with all other details serving solely to illuminate the contrasting natures of these two men.
The script by Patrick Cauvin opens in the best tradition of classic westerns, with a mysterious stranger getting off of a train. Milan (Johnny Hallyday) has taken the train to a small French village, and as he disembarks, the streets seem deserted, but that’s just due to the fact that he’s arrived during the off-season. Unfortunately, it also means that the hotel in town is closed, but after a chance encounter with retired schoolteacher Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), he finds a place to stay and an unlikely friend in the bargain. It turns out that Milan is a career criminal who’s visiting in order to rob the local bank at the end of the week, and Manesquier is scheduled to have a triple bypass on that same day. Each of them has a date with destiny.
The two men become fascinated with each other since they both long for something different: the laconic Milan is attracted to the quiet comfort of Manesquier’s lifestyle, while the loquacious Manesquier is tired of it, and he just wants to have a little adventure in his life. As each of them learns more about the other, they’re given a taste of the lives that they could have led, had fate worked out differently. Yet there was never any chance of that happening, since fate in Man on the Train is entirely deterministic. They’ve made their own choices, and neither of them has sufficient willpower to break free from the paths that they’ve already selected.
Even if they had the strength to change their fates, they simply don’t have the time to do so. Just like in High Noon, there’s a clock ticking for both of them, and when Saturday arrives, opportunity will have passed them by. Yet Man on the Train is still a Patrice Leconte film, so the conclusion isn’t quite that simple. As the last grains of sand pass through each of their hourglasses, Leconte offers them a moment of peace to contemplate what could have been, and to finally trade places once and for all. Milan gets to settle down in the tranquil environment of Manesquier’s home, while Manesquier boards the train to travel to find adventure in the next town down the line. Rather than forcing them to live with their regrets, Leconte allows them to pass on to the worlds of their dreams. It’s a bittersweet and haunting ending to an unforgettable film.
Cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou shot Man on the Train on 35 mm film using Arriflex 535 cameras with Zeiss anamorphic lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. There’s no information regarding the master that was provided to Kino Lorber for this version, and while their outstanding Blu-ray for Leconte’s Monsieur Hire set a high bar, this disc misses that mark by a wide margin. It’s a dated transfer, with visible signs of digital tinkering, and it may even be one that was originally created for DVD. There’s a significant amount of sharpening on display, and as a result, the grain has turned harsh, looking more like noise than like real grain. There’s also some haloing along the edges of objects—for example, watch the outline of Johnny Hallyday’s legs as leaves the train station at 4:10 and walks down the street. The contrast has been artificially boosted as well, often at the expense of fine detail. The highlights sometimes are blown out, and there’s some noticeable crush in the darker portions of the frame. As always, your mileage may vary depending on the size of your display, but this master clearly was never intended to be seen projected on a large screen.
Audio is offered in French 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. Man on the Train was released theatrically in both Dolby Digital and DTS, so the 5.1 track is the best choice here. (The 2.0 track is the matrix-encoded Dolby Stereo version that would have played in theatres that weren’t equipped for digital.) Either way, it’s a generally front-focused mix, with limited ambient effects in the surrounds. The film is mostly propelled by the superb score from Pascal Estève, who used a sinuous acoustic slide guitar to great effect. His music is somewhat reminiscent of similar material in Yoko Kanno’s unforgettable score to Cowboy Bebop. That’s not a bad thing, either, as it helps to set the mood—there’s more than a touch of Spike Spiegel to Milan. Whatever deficiencies that the video may have, the lossless music alone helps to compensate for it.
The following extras are included:
- Trailer (SD – 1:58)
- Monsieur Hire Trailer (HD – 1:05)
- The Crimson Rivers Trailer (SD – 1:57)
- In Bruges Trailer (HD – 2:30)
- Eastern Promises Trailer (HD – 2:22)
- Symphony for a Massacre Trailer (HD – 0:56)
- The Specialists Trailer (HD – 3:36)
Unfortunately, no real extras are offered here aside from the trailers. The Blu-ray for Monsieur Hire included an insightful commentary track and a fascinating interview with Leconte, but no such luck this time. That’s a shame, plus the fact that the master provided to Kino is a bit long in the tooth is equally disappointing. And yet... Man on the Train is such a memorable example of Leconte’s art that it still belongs in the collection of every film fan regardless of any caveats about the disc. Again, any deficiencies in the transfer will be less noticeable on a flat panel than they are in projections, but speaking as someone who does have a projector, I’m still happy to have Man on the Train in my collection regardless of flaws.
- Stephen Bjork