Sunday 6 November 2016

The Girl on the Train by Wilson and Hawkins

You can't copyright a title. Which is just as well, because this is the third or fourth movie to be called The Girl on the Train. It's based on a bestselling crime novel of the same title by Paula Hawkins, which rather rode on the coat tails of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl — a vastly superior work.

I haven't read Hawkins's novel but, as is so often the case, I've heard a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of it. And that was sufficient to expose fatal, basic structural problems with the story.

This is a whodunnit in which it's entirely obvious, almost from the get-go, who done it. The movie perhaps does a better job of, briefly, fooling the audience. But even here the bad guy might as well be wearing a sign around his neck saying "I'm the killer".

The other problem with the narrative is that the grand action climax is disappointingly ho-hum. Small beer indeed.

So what's left? Hawkins's novel does present a powerful portrait of a troubled, disintegrating woman. And it makes deft use of our deeply-programmed fear of babies being harmed. 

The movie makes effective use of the latter, but the former is overdone to the point of being tiresome. With unflattering make up and hair — to signal that she’s an unhappy alcoholic — Emily Blunt looks like she’s escaped from a zombie movie.

But director Tate Taylor, who also directed the outstanding James Brown movie Get on Up, has injected some memorable moments — there's a terrific bit involving a drop of water. 

And there's a well wrought script by Erin Cressida Wilson, who has some excellent screenwriting credits, from Secretary and Chloe to Men, Women and Children. All memorable films.

The ad campaign uses the slogan "What did she see?" which unfortunately brings to mind Rear Window, a short story by Cornell Woolrich, unforgettably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately because The Girl on the Train just isn't in that league.
The original novel was set in England. It's survived its translation to America without any major damage. 

But this is still an ultimately second-rate psychological thriller, and when set beside the magnificent film of Gone Girl, it pretty much ceases to exist.

(Image credits: a paucity of posters at Imp Awards — though there are some stylish ones, as you can see.)

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