Throughout history mankind has been witness to thousands of strange, unexplained ancient mysteries and events, as well as mysterious phenomena.
For example, the Loch Ness Monster and the UFO. After my visit to the cinema this week I’m adding the success of “The Girl on the Train” to that list.
Paula Hawkins`s dark thriller novel was an old-fashioned publishing success story. There wasn’t a big marketing campaign yet it smashed the all-time book sales record. I spent the majority of 2015 living in a tent in Egypt and even I was made well aware of the hype. EVERYBODY referred to it as a page-turner. I hadn’t seen such word-of-mouth hysteria since Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”.
The plot revolves around Rachel (Emily Blunt). Who used to be married to Tom (Justin Theroux) before he had an affair with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who is now his wife. They have a baby whose nanny is named Megan (Haley Bennett). She lives with Scott (Luke Evans). Edgar Ramirez is Megan`s shrink, but will also later become Rachel`s. Why is she going to a therapist? Don’t even ask.
Still following? Well, Rachel takes a twice-daily train ride that passes the house where Tom and Anna live. One day, she sees, or thinks she sees, something she shouldn’t. Then, as you do, she integrates herself into the ensuing investigation.
Seems like a lot of story? Well ,we are well into a series of convoluted dream sequences and flashbacks before we even know who our protagonist is or where we are.
The Big question: Does it live up to the hype?
Don’t make me laugh; Tate Taylor is hardly Alfred Hitchcock and this is no “Strangers on a Train.”He attempts a seductive atmosphere of voyeurism but doesn’t grasp the need for sustained tension - rarely making an effort when it comes to sexual gamesmanship and the eventual reveal of a dead body.
Instead we bounce from theory to theory as each revelation is doled out and each suspect makes himself look guiltier and guiltier by the moment, but much of it comes from ridiculous, unbelievable actions by our heroine.
With its distinctive internal writing style I appreciate that adapting the novel must have been a huge challenge for screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson. That being said I cannot sweep under the carpet the fact that this is a trainwreck, pure and simple. It`s a feminist piece hammered home with all the subtlety of a baseball bat. Its an unrelenting portrayal of women as victims of selfish, dominating males.
Blunt`s intense portrayal of an extremely damaged woman on the edge of insanity is breathtaking and the only positive to come out of this turkey. She shouldn’t be likeable but she demands our empathy. She’s pathetically real as bitter bedraggled divorcee Rachel and it’s easily the most convincing portrayal of alcoholism you will ever see on screen.
Shame then that the alcoholism isn’t even a serious theme. It’s just a tool to work in the convenient false-memory syndrome . I’m sorry, but that’s just a lazy way to mess with the logic of the story. Then again logic doesn’t seem to be important here. There are that many plot holes you may as well take the script home to drain spaghetti.
Answer on a postcard please as to why the film moves the story from the old railway suburbs of London to wealthier ones outside New York. Surely people this prosperous would move further from the tracks? I’m guessing it’s one of those artistically unnecessary Hollywood transpositions based on the assumption that American audiences are only interested in things that happen to other Americans. As a result we are inexplicably left without any kind of geographic or cultural reality.
Not that I care by this point. We’re meant to get caught up in the whodunit but the film never lets us get close enough to play detective. The mystery needs less forced complications and more relevant questions and development.
It’s a flat predictable puzzle with no real insight to offer beyond its solving. Taylor has boasted that the film’s ending diverges from the source material but the changes are not for the better. The payoff is too muddled to elicit a jaw-dropping reaction. It’s a slow chug into disappointment station.
Two years after 20th Century Fox hit the jackpot with “Gone Girl” it’s blatantly obvious that Universal Studios wanted this to be a clone. Unfortunately, it lacks that story’s narrative shiftiness, trashy thrills and twisted resolution. Unlike David Fincher's smash-hit this won’t be a film you watch twice.
Whatever word is the opposite of "page-turner" sums up this lifeless affair. At least with the Loch Ness Monster there are some grainy photographs to keep us entertained.