Man on the Train


Directed by Mary McGuckian. Starring Donald Sutherland, Larry Mullen Jr, Paul Boudreau, Greg Bryk, Graham Greene, Gary Hetzler Club, IFI, Dublin, 101 min

Released a decade ago, Patrice Leconte’s The Man on the Train centred on an effective complementary partnership between Johnny Hallyday and Jean Rochfort. The grizzled pop singer played a mysterious stranger – almost certainly a hoodlum – who sauntered into a quiet French town and made friends with Rochfort’s buttoned-up intellectual.

The picture was pleasant enough, but nothing about it cried out for reinvention. Mary McGuckian’s fitful new version does little to reverse that perception.

In his acting debut, drumming legend Larry Mullen struggles manfully against miscasting as the nameless enigma. Donald Sutherland gallantly tries to hack his way through his overwritten dialogue. But the relationship never makes much sense and the story never properly kicks into gear.

Much of the original’s appeal hung around its celebration of small-town French life. It’s never quite clear where McGuckian’s picture is set, but the film-makers appear to be attempting a similar exploration of outland Americana. The professor has a particular interest in modernist and beatnik US hipster poetry: Ezra Pound, EE Cummings, Charles Bukowski. One scene takes place in a traditional diner.

Unfortunately, Man on a Train was filmed in Ontario and could hardly look or sound more Cana-dian if it featured Celine Dion dressed as a Mountie. Long vowels from Sutherland, a son of New Brunswick, only heighten that impression.

Saddled with David Brent’s beard and deadened dialogue, Mullen acquits himself well enough in the title role. On the Jagger Scale of rock-star thespiana, the turn is a great deal closer to Performance than Ned Kelly. But whereas Hallyday had sinister, creased menace, Larry (nearly a decade younger than the French star then was) is just a little too fresh, a little too undamaged, a little too, well, easy on the eye and ear.

We remain puzzled as to why they bothered.