Current films and TV shows appear keen on providing viewers with a journey. Crafting a compelling narrative within the framework of a person’s quest is meant to hook us in. Such journeys can either be emotional or literal. Night Train to Lisbon features both. Charting a man’s odyssey as he confronts old demons, it travels fairly smoothly until its final destination.
Raimund (Jeremy Irons) is an ancient language expert and teacher. Often perplexed by what life offers, a sudden occurrence changes his existence. Preventing a woman from jumping off a bridge, she vanishes before he can ask her name. Leaving behind her coat, he unearths a book with a train ticket attached. He is intrigued to discover the book is written by a former revolutionary. Deciding to use the ticket to locate the author, what follows is a voyage of discovery which finally answers the questions that have riddled him.
Adapted from Pascal Mercier’s novel, Night Train to Lisbon is a slow-burning production. Unwrapping the secrets of those Raimund meets, it explores the legacy of people’s actions. How the past affects the present is reasonably handled by director Billie August. He ensures we see Raimund slowly break free of his introverted nature as he discovers aspects of certain events. His ability to interact with others becomes tested as each participant from an important revolution tells their own side of the conflict.
Whilst the characters and central plot are interesting, the mystery behind them never really flies. August’s direction is far too low-key with moments meant to conjure genuine suspense falling flat. The convoluted plot doesn’t help, although the quality of the performances is consistently high. The performances make some unsatisfactory scenes work as the film shifts it way through various timelines.
Night Train to Lisbon is a mostly engaging movie about how a random occurrence can forever alter one person’s perspective. The road taken in this cinematic journey may occasionally be bumpy, although it proves if one has the will to discover something, it can lead to life-changing moments.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 6