The director fails to capture the stifling, terrorizing claustrophobia of the coach, making it look all very simple and straight-forward. Even the top shots inside the carriages that he shoots are more distracting, taking an almost detached view of the goings-on below, you wondering what to make of all the heads you see. With the result, the breathtaking scenery is memorable, the mystery less so. Is that why the denouement, weak by any detective movie standards, takes place outside the train – all the passengers lined up on chairs, as if guests of honor at a valedictory event – instead of inside of the dining car, where the tension in the book and the 1974 movie was unbearable?
As the protagonist on the qui vive, Isabelle Huppert is the movie’s stunning lighthouse, plunging you into her character’s darkest and deepest desire, while using her binoculars; or when she realizes who the rapist is, and walks a razor-edge line between fantasy and a terrifying roleplay. Huppert is why Elle is the crepuscular triumph it is. You want to give her a cinematic salute for this brave-heart-stopping performance. She trapezes with such strength, whipping out a searing act, exploiting and being exploited at the same time. She’s fiery, all fire as she burns with desire, and then all ice as she plots her revenge.
Every passing interview, Holden and Tench change too – their strengthening bond suddenly frayed, as Holden discovers an almost devious delight in manipulating his interviewees with empathy and sympathy, both at first forced, but as they go deeper, the line between analyzing them to joining them in verbal jousts that speak their language, shattering the sanitized questionnaire into shreds; straining the team’s tenuous ties to the point of breakdown. And in a brilliant turn, as Holden gets manipulative and pushes the boundaries of ‘accepted procedure’ he gets better and abrasive, even.