Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 27, 2016 11:34 am 
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Botched viewpoints

Tate Taylor's The Girl on the Train looks good and drums up excitement with lurid action and hysterical narration. In the lead as the disturbed, alcoholic Rachel it has Emily Blunt, who is hot now and after Denis Villeneuve's great Sicario last year could be considered an action star. It also has other name actors, Justin Theroux, Édgar Ramírez, and Allison Janney, who deliver smooth performances. But it provides no satisfaction beyond the surface. It was heavily promoted well in advance, in vain: it is a terrible movie. Or more accurately a movie pleasant to watch at home while half dozing, without thinking, but otherwise useless.

Why is this? The novel apparently is a matter of multiple viewpoints, an unreliable narrator (Rachel), and a complicated timeline, botched by Tate Tayor (whose direction of The Help didn't prepare him for a thriller) and creative writing professor Erin Cressida Wilson, whose screenplay adaptation for the interesting sadomasochistic study Secretary also did not prepare for complicated action narratives. Emily Blunt provides a great range of emotion, but it has no coherent context.

This is the kind of story - a disappearance, murder, adultery, alcoholism, psychotherapy - that's too overexcited and busy to create believable characters or situations, but that nonetheless if well done can satisfy our problem-solving impulse. Unfortunately, the material dished up by Taylor and Wilson from Paula Hawkins' novel provides nothing clear enough to analyse.

We get close to Rachel early on. She rides the train from the suburbs to Manhattan and back every day. Later it turns out her drinking has gotten her fired from her job over a year ago, so she is pretending to go to work from the friend's house where she is now living. What does she do all day. She "rides the train." How is that possible? The trip from Ardsley-on-Hudson to Manhattan isn't that long. What does she do? Well, she drinks in the Grand Central Station restaurant; we see that. Mainly, she admires a couple she glimpses along the way. How is that possible? Well, it turns out they're next door to where she used to live with her ex-husband, Tom Watson (Justin Theroux), now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a new baby and whom Rachel tends to stalk. The couple next door whom Rachel thinks idyllic are Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans).

It turns out the novel has three narrators, Rachel, Anna, and Megan. But we only hear Rachel. When we see what only Anna or Megan could know, it's as if from an omniscient narrator. It also turns out Megan is working as Anna's nanny, and she quits. Then she disappears. Did Rachel kill her? Did Tom? Or Anna, since Megan and Tom were, well, "fucking"? (In the French subtitles, most of the vulgarity was suppressed, sensibly so, since it's unnecessary from such well-off, good-looking people.)

Rachel is a mess, jobless, lonely, a longtime alcoholic, having blackouts. (Blunt delivers all that emotion but - despite the obligatory AA meeting - doesn't show the wear and tear of an advanced alcoholic, the only flaw in her performance, but a serious one.) It's supposed to be important to find out what Rachel saw. But the film's confused and annoying flashback structure loses us, and we give up caring. Those reviewers who've had something good to say about this generally condemned movie excuse it as soft entertainment that stimulates the audience's tastes for vicarious misbehavior, luxury, adultery, riding the computer train without having to work at a job, murdering without being punished. Indeed as a murder mystery this disappoints by not tying the threads at the end. It seems to be enough to show Who Done It and how violently he gets punished.

This is the story of a Very Bad Man, an insecure exploiter of women, who gets well and truly polished off. If only it were a well-told tale. The filmmakers have turned it into a very badly told one, with glossy suburban scenery, pretty women, and nice houses. Perhaps Édgar Ramírez will always seem wasted after his wonderful role in Olivier Assays' miniseries Carlos, but he certainly does here as an amorous shrink, as does Allison Janney as a suave but surprisingly incurious police detective.

Not particularly a "Paris movie" of course, The Girl on the Train, retitled in French Le fille du train, also is not to be confused with André Téchiné's 2009 The Girl on the Train, whose French title was the more specific Le fille du RER. The RER (Réseau Express Régional) actually is a commuter train, and the "girl" (not a very PC term?) played by Rachel (Emily Blunt) also is one of those, never named, the MTA Metro-North train from Manhattan to posh Westchester County, specifically to Ardsley-on-Hudson.

It has been suggested that Tate Taylor & Co. want to emulate David Fincher's lurid, lively thriller adaptation Gone Girl - and of course fail; or that Hitchcock could have made something good of this - and did: Rear Window.

La fille du train/The Girl on the Grain, 112 mins. was theatrically released in many countries in the first week of Oct. 2016, 7 Oct. in the US, 26 Oct. in France. Screened for this review at UGC Odéon 27 Oct. The Metacritic score is a well-deserved 48%; AlloCiné's press rating of 2.3/21 shows the French critics agree.

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