Monday, 3 October 2016

The Girl On The Train

If the number of girls on trains reading The Girl On The Train over the last couple of years is anything to go by, then the film of the book of the girl on the train is already on the fast track to box office success. Which is a shame really, because despite a first class performance from Emily Blunt, it really is a load of derivative, mediocre and frequently lazy old rubbish; if Southern Rail made movies instead of pretending to operate a train service, this would be the result.
The Girl On The Train

Full disclaimer: I haven't read Paula Hawkins' book. I don't know anything about it bar its Da Vinci Code / Girl With The Dragon Tattoo / Gone Girl-esque ubiquity among commuters, although that fact in itself should have alerted me to the film's distinct averageness. So whether its flaws are inherited from the source material or are entirely down to Erin Cressida Wilson's script, I don't know. But even if you were to approach it with the blissful ignorance of the novel's very existence, you'd know it was a literary adaptation before it's barely pulled out of the station.

Much of the first act is smothered in Emily Blunt's voiceover, explaining who her character is and what she's looking at from her vantage point on her daily slog to and from Manhattan, and it's a fair indication that the film is destined to go off the rails. It might be an old-fashioned point of view but I like films to show, not tell, and lengthy voiceovers are almost always a signal that somebody, somewhere, doesn't have the artistic chops to craft a truly cinematic experience. The fact that the voiceovers disappear once they've set the scene, returning only for a cringe-inducing sign-off, just drives the point home.
The Girl On The Balcony

Before too long then, we know that Rachel (Blunt) is an obsessive alcoholic who thrives on twice-daily gawps at the house she used to share with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), who's now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). A couple of doors down live Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), an initially anonymous couple who Rachel envies for their apparently perfect life. All these characters' stories are presented to us in a relentless tumble of flashbacks and captions, some of which are polite enough to let you know when you're back in the present day, if director Tate Taylor can be arsed.

Flashbacks - along with voiceovers - are another dangerous filmmaking tool, and Taylor wields them like a child with a chainsaw, hacking his story to bits and leaving you to piece together the tattered remains. Now I don't mind the odd bit of deliberate misdirection and cinematic sleight-of-hand that flashbacks can provide (Christopher Nolan's Memento and The Prestige took the device to new and thus-far unparalleled heights), but here they just come across as unnecessary. One notably egregious example occurs during The Girl On The Train's climax, pointlessly depicting at length (and in dubious taste) events we've already had explained to us. There's a high-profile film out soon that uses flashbacks with startling ingenuity, and it shunts Wilson and Taylor's film into the sidings; one can only hope that they watch it and think long and hard about what they've done.
The Girl On The Front Lawn

Eventually, as you can imagine (or know full well having read the book), there's an unpleasant turn of events for the characters, and the whole shebang becomes a '90s psychological thriller riddled with plot holes. Not least of these is a staggeringly inept police investigation headed up by the usually-formidable Alison Janney, wasted here as a detective who - in any other similarly-themed movie - would have had the case wrapped up by the hour mark, instead of doing dumb things like conducting half an interview with a prime suspect before inexplicably breaking off because an underling shook his head at her. I too found myself shaking my head, and not for the last time.

Tate Taylor's approach and visuals suggest a man who's watched Gone Girl quite a lot and thought, well, that worked, let's do that. But in attempting to mimic David Fincher, he's merely highlighted the difference between a director who truly understands the potential of cinema and a journeyman lumbered with a creaky script. Roughly ten percent of The Girl On The Train is made up of things happening, while the remaining ninety percent consists of people telling other people about things that happened, and frankly it's a waste of film. If you want someone to relay the story's events to you just read the book, because on this evidence, cinema is entirely the wrong platform.

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