Raimund becomes aware of author Amadeu’s (Jack Huston) one and only published piece when discovering it in the trail of an elusive stranger he is fervently pursuing. They had met that morning, as she was stood contemplating suicide on a bridge. Having kept her alive, the teacher became obsessed with her story, and when she flees to Lisbon, he drops everything just to follow her. However when reading Amadeu’s book, Raimund feels compelled to find out more about him, and so sets off to meet his sister (Charlotte Rampling) and best friends João Eca (Tom Courtenay) and Jorge (Bruno Ganz), only to become unwittingly drawn in to a fascinating tale of dictatorship, rebellion, love, murder, and death.
The way Danish filmmaker Billie August has brought author Pascal Mercier’s novel to the big screen feels somewhat contrived. The way the narrative pieces itself together is forced and unnatural at times, and let’s just say that coincidence favours our protagonist rather conspicuously. We don’t truly get a sense for his lust for change either, his spontaneous, impulsive decision to just pack it all up and set off – with perhaps a little more background information and context required. Raimund represents the viewer effectively though, particular in his pursuit of Amadeu, as he discovers new evidence and becomes aware of certain information just as we do, piecing it all together in the process.
At times Night Train to Lisbon can feel somewhat generic and cliched, but is saved, predominantly, thanks to the credentials of this remarkable, international cast. Joining the list of talent above is the likes of Mélanie Laurent, Martina Gedeck, August Diehl, Lena Olin and the enigmatic Sir Christopher Lee. The hackneyed screenplay may not be anything particularly innovative nor memorable, yet it’s brought to life by this cast. Some of the dialogue does seem stilted however, in no way helped by the fact the entire production is spoken in English. Some authenticity, like the locals speaking in their native tongue, never goes amiss.
Nonetheless, August’s pacing is spot-on, and the structure inventive, like how we watch the same events in flashbacks, from the differing perspectives of those recounting the tales. Credit where it’s due, you certainly remain compelled as to how this feature may conclude. Which, even if there are detrimental flaws that exist, you’re rarely not engaged and caught up in this picture.