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

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…

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…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

A machine planet, sending a machine to Earth, looking for its creator. It’s absolutely incredible.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
(SPOILERS) Most of the criticisms levelled at Star Trek: The Motion Picture are legitimate. It puts spectacle above plot, one that’s so derivative it might be classed as the clichéd Star Trek plot. It’s bloated and slow moving. For every superior redesign of the original series’ visuals and concepts, there’s an inferior example. But… it’s also endlessly fascinating. It stands alone among the big screen chapters of series as an attempted reimagining of the TV show as a grand adult, serious-minded “experience”, taking its cues more from 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars or even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the success of which got The Motion Picture (TMP) a green light, execs sufficiently convinced that Lucas’ hit wasn’t a one-off). It’s a film (a motion picture, not a mere movie) that recognises the passage of time (albeit clumsily at points) and gives a firm sense of space and place to its characters universe. It’s hugely flawed, but it bot…