Skip to main content

Just tell me what happened that night!

The Girl on the Train
(2016)

(SPOILERS) It’s never entirely clear why Hollywood studios assume defenestrating a novel’s defining aspects will lead its devoted readers to flock to the movie version. I mean, relocating a novel set singularly in London to New York is tantamount to casting a Yank as Bridget Jones. Or a dwarf as a Jack Reacher. Judging by the movie of The Girl on the Train, though, which doesn’t make me want to rush out and read Paula Hawkins’ book, upping its styx (while retaining the alchy English heroine) is the least of its problems. Indeed, I was kind of, almost, on board with the whole thing before it decided that what it actually was was a stand issue, abusive partner, Sleeping with the Enemy-type affair.


Because, while reveals are quite obviously a fundamental ingredient of a good murder mystery, having those reveals negate the only distinctive aspect of the subject matter cannot be a good thing. About the only arresting aspect of the back half of The Girl on the Train, in which Emily Blunt’s permanently inebriated Rachel Watson takes on the aspect of Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple, only more youthful, wearing the same clothes for a month and smelling of wee, as she sniffs out the murderer of the next door neighbour to the house she formerly occupied (still resident are her ex Justin Theroux and his new wife Rebecca Ferguson, plus mewling bairn), is the confrontation with the revealed-as-the-guilty-party Theroux.


It’s a process of disappointingly rudimentary elimination to divine who actually dunnit after Luke Evans (husband of the murdered Haley Bennet, who is luckily much more effective here than she was in The Magnificent Seven a few weeks back) is shown to have an alibi, and Edgar Ramirez, the studly beardy shrink is revealed not to be the father of the pregnant victim’s unborn. Unless Bennet had been having an affair with Allison Janney’s detective sergeant, or Lisa Kudrow’s mostly unconnected ex-boss of Theroux, there weren’t really any other characters to choose from. Possibly Darren Goldstein’s ‘Man in the Suit’ but that would be like having the killer in Sea of Love revealed as someone you saw in a couple of scenes way back in the first act.


But, while Theroux, who has been giving his all in a sterling performance in The Leftovers over the past couple of years, is called upon to deliver the standard Cliff Notes psycho when he is “unmasked” (via some astonishing total recall on Rachel’s part; who knew drunken blackouts gradually crystallise in the mind over time, such that all becomes clear?), his demise, first via a corkscrew in the neck from Rachel, and then, in a quite inspired turn of matrimonial venom, from wife Anna screwing it in further to make sure he really is dead, almost justifies the sloppiness of the mystery elsewhere.


Tate Taylor (previously of The Help) is on much firmer ground with the dissociative episodes besieging Rachel during the first half of the movie than the thriller mechanics of the second (such that he fatally misjudges would-be disturbing scenes such as Theroux getting out a really big rock to brain Bennett with, which in long shot looks like nothing so much a homage to a Looney Tunes cartoon).


The Girl on the Train is almost daringly original when it sets itself up as a movie about an alcoholic no-life entirely responsible for the disintegration of her marriage (rather than being recast as a victim when clarity returns), and who is somehow stumbling in hit-and-miss fashion on the trail of a murderer, inappropriately inveigling herself with the widow and seeking out the shrink while remaining on Janney’s suspect list (however superficially with regard to the latter; Janney’s detective is someone you wouldn’t really want investigating a petty theft, let alone the death of someone important).


And Blunt, while she is generally far too spruce to suggest someone stinking of urine and turps, does a really very good, cringe-making drunk turn, one where every misstep and blunder is painfully feasible. Taylor’s use of point of view and subjective lens are highly effective during these scenes, from the unreliable witness that is Rachel to the reactions of those around on realising her state (the mother with baby on the train, who is no longer quite so amenable when she realises Blunt is blotto; Goldstein’s good Samaritan, who gets a load of grief for his troubles).


Evans, Theroux and Ramirez are serviceable if unremarkable, but Bennett and Ferguson make stronger impressions, attempting to elevate rather ho-hum material that seems to have underlying seriousness aspirations before cutting loose into full-on pulp. Someone I saw this with fell asleep halfway through, a sign The Girl on the Train isn’t exactly riveting, but the first half, as Blunt stumbles through a vodka-tinted phantasmagoria of uncertain sights and suspect theories, is far superior to what follows.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.