Man on the Train: Robber and Retiree Meet Cute

Then we see their true selves revealed.

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER in a quiet French town between two wildly different men, a former schoolteacher and a steely bank robber, becomes a film of such deep satisfaction it's almost indecent. That film is Patrice Leconte's Man on the Train, which opens Friday, May 16 at the Seven Gables. Blowing into town like a Sergio Leone cowboy (right down to his fringed black-leather jacket) and in serious need of aspirin, hard guy Milan (Johnny Hallyday) heads to the local drugstore, where the only customer is Manesquier (Jean Rochefort). Between Manesquier's tightly furled tidiness and Milan's roughness, they're polar opposites. But with the town shutting down, when Manesquier offers a glass of water for the aspirin, Milan accepts. Don't let "opposites" put you off: This isn't one of those dreadful mismatched Gallic buddy films by Francis Veber (The Closet). Though the setup sounds suitably unpromising, no one in the movie is corseted or closeted. But it is French in the way that friendship (and talk) can be an artif practiced with wit and a light hand. Although Manesquier does most of the talking, showing the taut Milan through his huge, book-crammed, comfortably out-of-date house, each man is intrigued by the other's life. (Manesquier, no fool, has a good idea of the guns in Milan's heavy suitcase.) Milan is younger, but in his line of work, he's realistic about his low prospects for an extended old age. So he feels the pull of this kind of comfort and stability. For his part, the self-effacing Manesquier feels that his life has been stifled by the small townrobbed of adventure. Invited to take one of the guest rooms for the night, Milan asks if he can stay "until Saturday," three days away. It's a perfect refuge while his gang assembles. Saturday is equally weighty for Manesquier: It's the day he faces his "tune-up" (a triple bypass). Imperceptibly, an admiring friendship is forged between these two, which ratchets up our tensionand theirs for each otherabout Saturday. Preparing for their major unknowns, Manesquier has an air-clearing visit from his sister and his desultory mistress, while Milan assembles a crew mismatched enough even to worry him. The film's biggest surprise is Hallyday, once France's answer to Elvis. Oh, those French. He does have a gazillion gold records from one of the funniest eras of French pop music, yet nothing in that awful r鳵m頰repares you for how terrific he is here. In perfect sync with the great, silken Rochefort, Hallyday has presence to burn and the dry deadpan humor of a man of long, illicit experience. Rochefort, an actor who can give a line clauses and subclauses of irony, reaches some personal best here. Yet no matter how polished the dialogue, what his character really wants is to know his way around a gun. However, if you think you can predict the outcome in any way, you underestimate Claude Klotz's tender, restorative screenplay and Leconte's rigor. This Train doesn't stop where expected.

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