Night Train to Lisbon

A middle-aged Swiss high school teacher, on his way to school one morning, stops a young woman from jumping off a bridge.  She runs away, but leaves her coat, in the pockets of which are a book of Portuguese poetry and a ticket on the night train to Lisbon.  The teacher, entranced by the poetry, decides to take the train and meet the author.  What he discovers is the history of three young people involved in a fairly ordinary love story, set against the extraordinary events of the end of the Salazar regime.

Jeremy Irons was born to play the role of a middle-aged intellectual who has somehow lost the thread of his life — no scenery chewing here.  The supporting cast of international actors (including some whose names you may recognize, like Lena Olin and Charlotte Rampling) is excellent.  Lisbon looks pretty good too — especially, the April 25 Bridge, which looks strangely familiar (it was modeled after San Francisco’s Golden Gate).
I read this book some years ago, and didn’t even realize it had become a movie.  Its theatrical release, if it had one, must have been very short.  Too bad — it’s a pretty good movie, one that deserves a wider audience.



I didn’t expect to like this story about an elderly Montana man going to collect the million-dollar-prize he thought he’d won from Publishers’ Clearinghouse at all.  His younger son, realizing his father won’t give up this Quixotic quest, decides to drive him to Lincoln Nebraska to pick up his prize.  Along the way, he realizes he hadn’t really known his father at all.   

The first half of this movie is very slow.  It picks up a lot once the father and son arrive at the small Nebraska town the father grew up in.  The view of this town is hard-headed but affectionate, without the condescension towards small-town America often found in Hollywood movies.  Some of it is unexpectedly funny — the scene of Dern and his elderly brothers watching football saying hardly a word, though they haven’t seen each other in 30 years, is priceless.

The supporting cast, featuring mostly lesser-known actors, is very strong.  Stacy Keach appears as Dern’s childhood friend, and Bob Odenkirk is surprisingly effective as Dern’s older son, who thinks both his father and his younger brother are just nuts.  Bruce Dern does a fantastic job as a man who knows the end of his misspent life is near, and who is neither as stupid or demented as everyone thinks he is.  He is, however, just perceptive enough to realize just how little others think of him — perhaps the real reason I found this movie is so oddly affecting and, ultimately, life-affirming.