If there is one thriller that has been talked about, seen on bookshelves all over the country, and that book that you have seen being read by most people on the beach on your Summer holidays, that would be ‘The Girl on the Train’, written by Paula Hawkins. The film has received a very heavy advertising campaign which tempted to bring in fans of the book, however, I must explain to fans of the book that there is no guarantee that this is a faithful adaptation, especially considering that unlike the successful ‘Gone Girl’, which the advertising campaign clearly suggests this film is attempting to capitalize on the success of, the screenplay for the film has not been written by the Author of the book, instead it is written by Erin Cressida Wilson, who doesn’t have too much to her name. The last screenplay for which she is accredited was the profoundly awful ‘Men, Women and Children’ a film that attempted to say that the Internet has turned us into ugly ill-informed ignorant people, incapable of real human emotion and contact, by the way, it is just as tacky as it sounds. It’s basically someone trying to do ‘Love Actually’ for the Internet. I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt on this one because most of the poor nature of that film comes from director Jason Reitman who also had a writers credit on the film so I suspect had much more creative control.
The film version has been directed by Tate Taylor, a BAFTA nominated director for his 2011 film The Help, which also received a couple of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and included all the actress categories including 2 actresses from the same film being nominated in the same category, incidentally this is also the film that got Octavia Spencer her best supporting actress Oscar. The Help is a pretty decent film and I actually kind of enjoyed it but it just feels like one of those films that is aiming for an Oscar nomination and I think it does say something that the film was nominated for Best Picture, but Tate Taylor was not nominated for Best Director. The Academy has, though, got it wrong in the past because Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director, despite the fact that Argo was nominated for and won Best Picture.
I was rather taken in by The Girl on the Train’s advertising campaign since the trailers gave away very little but I wanted to make sure this time that I did get the perspective of someone who had read the book to decide whether it’s a faithful adaptation and if the changes or admissions from the novel make any sense, so for that purpose I took advantage of the fact that it was a Wednesday release and bought the book for Dr Buchan when she was on her holiday and invited her along to the screening. So this film is going to be coming from two perspectives, my perspective of somebody who hasn’t read the book and Dr Buchan’s perspective of someone who has read the book. This is a rather interesting thought, and while we are on the subject, as a follow up to last week’s review of Miss Peregrines home for Peculiar Children, I have since spoken to Axia member Elspeth Bromiley, who has read the book and has now seen the film, and she hates the film, so I think the film has made a few changes from the book which won’t go down too well with fans of the book. Now, that was Miss Peregrine, so now let’s find out how The Girl on the Train did.
The basic plot of Girl on the Train is a bit of an issue for me, because it’s not a very basic plot and to go into detail about it would be to spoil a lot of the big reveals, especially considering the trailer does not give away too much of all about the film’s plot. I want to keep this review spoiler free so on that basis I am only going to explain a basic plot.
Alcoholic Rachel (played by Emily Blunt) believes she is a witness to the disappearance of her ex-husband Tom’s (played by Justin Theroux) nanny Megan (played by Haley Bennett) however she is considered an unreliable witness and a possible suspect. With one reveal after another coming, it is very evident that these characters have a lot of back story to them and everything may not be as it seems. That is all I am going to say about the basic plot and if there is one comment I can really make to sum up this film in a nutshell, it’s this ‘it’s not Gone Girl’, as expected Gone Girl was a much better film that had a much better plot, much better reveal and a much more interesting ending. That does not diminish my enjoyment of Girl on the Train though, which I did find to be an enjoyable film. Now again I came in with the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the book, so the majority of what is said in this review will come from me. Dr Buchan who joined me on the film and has read the book, came to the conclusion that she found it to be a very excellent adaptation of the book and noticed a lot of subtle things that I hadn’t noticed in the viewing, but when I really thought on it, I actually said that I wasn’t sure that these things were established and that she maybe assumed them because she had read the book, however, I don’t wish to put words in her mouth nor do I wish to make those assumptions, in fact I am actually kind of interested to see this film again on a repeat viewing so I can come in from the perspective of having known all the twists and turns. The basic plot that I have made doesn’t really do it justice because it doesn’t really mention a lot of the characters that are featured. We have Tom’s new wife Anna who is set up to be one of the major characters, played by Rebecca Ferguson, Megan’s husband Scott, played by Luke Evans as well as Megan’s therapist Doctor Kamal Abdic, played by Edgar Ramirez. The way the characters are set up it’s almost set up to be a classic murder mystery, the same sort of interesting characters with all the various secrets to uncover, the only difference being, is that this is more set to be a Thriller and we are seeing the film from the perspective of the suspect rather than the perspective of a Detective.
The film has a basic plot structure with essentially there being three narrators, Rachel, Megan and Anna, that does lead to one of my issues with the film though, we will get into that later. Rachel takes up the majority of the film, though we do get a lot of Megan’s back story through various flashbacks which does aid the plot quite significantly. Believe me, this is a very intriguing plot, there are tons of twist and turns and the film constantly keeps you guessing. Despite the fact that we spend most of the time with Rachel, she could be an unreliable witness and the film sets up from the start the possibility that she herself could be responsible for Megan’s disappearance. Even though I did say I found it gripping, and I really did, I did kind of know where it was going. That’s not to say it’s a badly written plot far from it, the screenplay is actually very good, but the problem is that the film sets us way too many characters to be red herrings. You are constantly throwing scenarios in your head, but if you are used to seeing thrillers and murder mysteries like I am and know the way that writers work, you will start to eliminate a few of the possibilities and even if you don’t fully eliminate them, you will want to because if those scenarios turn out to be the case it would result in a massive anti-climax or the twist not making any sense. Fortunately the film doesn’t do either of these, the twist does kind of work, even if it does come slightly out of left field, though granted I would like to see this film again to see if I am incorrect on that one, and that last comment, I would like to say, should not be set in stone. According to Dr Buchan, fans of the book will be appeased by how closely it adheres to the book, the only major change being that the books setting has been moved from London to New York, despite the fact that Rachel is remaining as a British character. London and New York are very similar cities so it doesn’t really affect the setting too badly, and the change does make sense. Two of the main actors are British and I am glad the setting was changed to America to accommodate the other actors since I think they are very well cast and to have said no to them to keep the British identity would have been a great loss.
The film portrays Alcoholism excellently, so it does allow us to feel sympathetic towards Rachel, as a down and out character who is clinging on to any happiness or idea of love she might have had after her divorce from her husband after un-successful IVF treatment and him having since moved on to his second wife who has had a successful pregnancy. The whole thing kind of feels like the film is told from her perspective though as I mentioned, we do get a lot of Megan’s perspective. The problem with the perspective changes is that Anna is set up as a third narrator, which is a good idea because her perspective is rather interesting. The downside is, it doesn’t play a factor until the last third of the film, she is actually a bit on the sidelines for the opening, although she is thrown in as a potential suspect in the disappearance, since basically the opening of the film sets out that Megan basically managed to upset everyone around her up to that moment. Isn’t that amazing how that seems to happen in fiction all the time, just before you are murdered or disappear, you manage to upset everyone around you!! I will say, however, Anna is not a bad character, far from it she is actually rather interesting when you dive into her, I just think she should have stayed as a supporting character rather than the film trying to convince us she is a main character, this really is more Rachel and Megan’s story. In fact, the final line of the film doesn’t make sense for that reason among others which I can’t go into because of spoilers.
I think the big difference between this and Gone Girl is that it doesn’t balance its gender politics as well as Gone Girl did. Gone Girl made out that neither gender was superior to the other and that meant all things were on an even keel, this one tends to side with women over men quite a bit more hence why it’s been likened to a lifetime movie by several critics but I feel like the gender politics should have been a bit more even than they were, again, not going into spoilers with this one. The only other nit pic that I really have is that there is a whole factor of memory loss and memory gain which really comes and goes as the plot demands it rather than it slowly unfolding, not to say that this film is rather rushed in its pacing, in fact the pacing is quite good despite the fact that the film only has 1hr 52mins running time. I would say that these are all nit pics. The film is really gripping and a pretty good thriller and it’s really just me having the be fair as a reviewer that I am making these points. In truth, I really did enjoy a lot of this film and I came out of the film like my brain had to be taxed. I just wish that I had turned off my brain a little bit more because it meant I would have probably been more shocked by the plot twists and I would have stopped eliminating possibilities, because I am a smart alec!! I do believe this film has a few flaws in it but I think the plot however is good enough to sustain its audience and I really, really did like, for lack of a better term, the thrill of the chase. If you have read the book I think it will be rather interesting in how certain plot points are done and I would be interested to get your opinion on how the various twists and turns work and your opinion of how the film handled the plot, knowing the outcome. I would like to make a rule however, that no one places spoilers in the comments section until January 2017 because I want enough time for people to have seen this film having actually read the book and I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t, because I think going into it knowing virtually nothing can enhance your experience. Overall I think the plot works for both people who have read the book or not and I think the critics film’s reception has been rather unfounded on that basis.
As for the performances, most of them are brilliant. Especially Emily Blunt, why does this woman not have an Oscar already, she hasn’t even received a nomination for an Oscar for goodness sake!! I think she could easily be nominated for her performance alone in this film, she is a brilliant lead and does a brilliant portrayal of Alcoholism and a woman at her all time low and I applaud the film makers for putting this kind of character in, since most characters like this tend to be male and I think film makers and Television producers fear putting female characters like this in for fear of being called misogynistic, however, I find characters like this to be rather more inclusive. Hayley Bennet is also fantastic in this film as Megan and can trace several emotions including one scene involving a bathtub which is as far as I will go with that, which was one of the best scenes in the film for me. Rebecca Ferguson is not given as much to do throughout the film but when she is allowed to, she is brilliant as well. Justin Theroux is a bit of a mixed bag for me, I think he is actually quite good for the most part of the film, although there are a few moments that I felt he was a bit off, that being said, however, I think he does deliver an overall great performance. Luke Evans is an actor who I think is rather unlucky in his script selections as anyone who read my review of Dracula Untold will be aware, I am not really a person who thinks favorably of his acting, however, I think he delivers a pretty decent performance in this film, all things considered, although I don’t know what type of accent he was attempting to do here, he would have been better kept as a British character. Edgar Ramirez playing the therapist is actually a good understated role and I am really happy that he delivers here, because I think he is rather a yoyo actor, as in he will appear in a good film, then completely screw that up by appearing in a bad film. Take for example, this year, where he did a very good appearance in Joy, then appeared in the terrible Point Break. If you remember, I re-named it pointless break. Hopefully his upcoming film Gold will turn out to be a good film so he can end the year on a high. I would really keep an eye out for him because he is a genuinely good actor. Once again, I am talking about Allison Janney who plays the main detective in charge of the case who I think is really very good in this role, even if she a rather minor character. Laura Prepon doesn’t really get much to do this time round, so she didn’t really leave much of an impression and the same goes for Darren Goldstein, though he did leave a bit more of an impression, though I won’t go into details why. Overall, a dam good cast though I think the women in this film outshone the men in every fashion.
In talking about the technical, the one thing I’ve really got to praise is the film’s score, done by Danny Elfman who once again delivers another fantastic film score and I find it rather interesting because his most recent film scores have been rather understated, which he is continuing with this film. The sound editors and the cinematographers really deserve Oscar nominations on the back of this film. The sound editing is fantastic, really heightening the tension in several scenes and the editing is also brilliant and the cinematography really sells the scenes, and without these tense and intriguing moments would not have lived up as well as they did. Everyone in the technical department deserves a pat on the back.
Girl on the Train is a really intriguing thriller with lots of great characters and great moments, it just had a few niggle moments where it didn’t quite live up to its potential, but from second hand information, fans of the book will get a lot out of this film. I think that’s its problem though, it makes a better book than a film and it doesn’t quite escape those trappings in the medium transfer. It’s not what I would call a massively flawed film and I think a lot of the critics have been harsh on it, but it does have a few things to nit pic over. Still, if you like good thrillers and a good murder mystery plot, this is one I would recommend and I’m really interested to see if my opinion is affected upon a repeat viewing, though judging by the time of this film’s release, I won’t be able to re-watch it before I do my best and worst of the year list. Make no mistake, I would still recommend you see it, even if you haven’t read the book. So in other words it’s a really good interesting film, with a couple of tiny misses that slightly dampen the film as a whole.
Deep Water Horizon: This was a much better film than I was expecting, in fact I would recommend that you go and see it. The film is a disaster movie dealing with the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that lead to the worst oil disaster in US history. It’s a really, really, good disaster film that has some very good performances from actors like Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and John bloody Malkovich and I am not editing that, because you can’t say his name without saying that because he is so damn awesome. The film’s biggest strength is that director Peter Bergh who, after watching this, you will never believe directed the abomination Battleship, really put the time and effort into understanding how oil rigs work and even went to an oil rig to learn it himself and as a result he makes some good technical information, without it being boring to the audience, plus his reliance on practical effects over CGI for the most of the film really pays off and makes everything feel more physical and have more weight to it. If I have to have a bit of a nit pic, I do think Mark Wahlberg is slightly mis-cast but I would really recommend you see it especially in cinemas. I saw it in an Imax screening and I think that’s the best way to experience it and I am not sure this film will play too well on DVD and NetFlix.
April and the Extraordinary World: I am going to be praising this one too, because I really enjoyed this. It’s a French animated film that has sadly gone directly to DVD over here, but it is really worth a watch. Based on a graphic novel of the same name, the best way of describing the film is ‘it’s a steam punk animated film’ that feels like a mix of Tintin and Studio Ghibli. I really enjoyed watching it, it had lovely moments, great characters and a decent plot. Plus the steam punk setting mixed with the really cool French animation lead to some really great imaginative moments, even of a couple of them felt like they were ripping of Howl’s Moving Castle. If you are a fan of Tintin or Studio Ghibli you owe it to yourself to watch this film and it’s another example of the brilliant standard that animated films have had this year. Bar a few exceptions which we will not name to avoid me going into full rage mode, incidentally despite an English dub has been produced for the American audience, the DVD copy that I had which was distributed by Studio Canal for European audience doesn’t offer a dub, so you will have to watch it in French with English sub titles, however I suspect anime fans who are used to watching subs won’t be bothered by this.
So that was my very brief and somewhat cryptic thoughts in parts on these three films, if you have any thoughts, please leave something in the comments section, and I am standing by my rule of no spoilers in the comment section please until 2017.
That’s one more down and where me being a reviewer makes me sound harsher than it really is. Next week I am working double time. I am off to London for the London Film Festival and that means I am going to reviewing a film that is getting an advanced screening at the festival, but won’t be in UK cinemas until mid November, so you will get my advance thoughts on the new Anime movie that has become so far, the highest grossing film of 2016 in Japan, it’s the new number one ranked film on Anime Planet and Mai Anime list, “Your Name” which has come from the same director as Five Centimeters per Second and Garden of Words.
Thank you very much for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and I am never going to be able to look into people’s gardens from a train the same ever again.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant