Before I begin to defend the notion that Ben Affleck and David Fincher are remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, I’m going to have to ask you to get past the whole now-it’s-on-a-plane thing. When Deadline announced the project earlier today, it incorrectly stated that the remake would be called Strangers on a Plane, and it was a totally normal response to giggle, furrow your brow, or make the near-obligatory joke about snakes and what they might also be doing on said aircraft. (Deadline’s Mike Fleming has since updated the article to note that the remake has the more succinct title Strangers.) But once you work through that cosmetic change — as well as any inherent skepticism you may have about yet another remade classic — there’s a lot here to get excited about.
First of all, this is a project in good hands. David Fincher is directing! Gillian Flynn is scripting! This is about as good a scenario as could be hoped for, given the fabulously nasty source material. Gone Girl is ample proof that Fincher and Flynn can operate in that vein, and if you need to know how much worse things could have gone, please pay attention to the fact that Michael Bay is currently attempting to remake Hitchcock’s The Birds.
More important, the central premise of Strangers on a Train — two men become embroiled in a plot to bump off an irritant in each others’ lives — has received a genius update for Fincher’s version: Affleck will play a movie star in the middle of an Oscar campaign whose private plane breaks down outside of L.A., necessitating a lift from a mysterious, murderous stranger. Can you imagine what sort of swings at Oscar season Fincher is ready to take after going through the awards gauntlet with gritted teeth for all of these years? It’s delicious enough to speculate on whom Affleck’s character might want dead after a grueling Oscar push: his publicist? The Best Actor frontrunner? Harvey?
I am Vulture’s resident Hitchcock obsessive, but I’m more than okay with Fincher and Flynn taking on this classic. The original is quite wonderful, but hardly sacrosanct — the premise of the 1951 original has inspired several copycats since, including the affectionate homage Throw Momma From the Train — and there seems to be a lot more inspiration here than there was in Gus van Sant’s notorious redo of Psycho. (Hitchcock himself was no stranger to remakes, as he mounted two different versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much, 22 years apart.) What’s more, this may be the closest thing we get to a movie version of the scathing emails leaked in the Sony fiasco, many of which tangentially involved the in-demand Fincher: In those missives, each new vitriolic email was the equivalent of an electronic dagger plunged into someone’s back. The venom is real when Hollywood careers are on the line; I’ll happily leave it to Flynn and Fincher to literalize those life-or-death stakes in the most delicious way.