Monday, July 03, 2017

Training Day

A couple years ago, I read the then-popular book, The Girl on the Train. I was lukewarm about it, so I would have had little or no interest in the film adaptation that was made last year. Indeed, I had "little," but not quite "no."

That's thanks to the star, Emily Blunt. She's been great in a whole raft of movies now. Many of those have revolved around men -- The Adjustment Bureau, Looper, and Edge of Tomorrow, to name a few -- yet she's wrested away attention even when her character didn't inherently command it. In short, she's great, and I felt like I had to give a chance to a movie where she was the focus she ought to be.

Unfortunately, the film version of The Girl on the Train is still only as good as the book on which is it based. Maybe not even that good. First, the book does lose something in the translation to another medium. Its big gimmick is to take the familiar trope of the unreliable narrator and multiply it; the book hands off between several narrators, and each is hiding as much as the last. The film rightly unifies the story to just one perspective, Blunt's character of Rachel, and yet excising the gimmick requires the story to stand more on its own -- something it can't quite do.

Second, the story (in any form) relies a great deal on mystery to be entertaining. It's a whodunit, and not an especially convoluted one. I doubt the writing itself would have carried the load had I re-read the book again; this adaptation doesn't make the dialogue sizzle in any particular way that makes up the difference either.

So all that's really left is performance. Emily Blunt is, as expected, great. (She was even nominated for a BAFTA for this fairly lackluster movie.) Justin Theroux and Luke Evans both give good "creepy" as two love interest/suspects. Rebecca Ferguson is solid as a falling-apart housewife uncertain where to place the blame for her misery. Haley Bennett is good as the object of the mystery, standing out particularly in a flashback scene that reveals a horrid chapter of her character's history. Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, and Lisa Kudrow are all good in bit parts -- stooping a bit to appear here, but doing a lot with a little.

In short, I guess I got what I was looking for in watching this movie: the performances are good in general, and Blunt's is great in particular. But that's really just not enough. In both novel and movie form, The Girl on the Train simply rides along in the wake of Gone Girl, a similar but superior type of story. I'd grade this movie a C+. Emily Blunt will no doubt continue being great. You might as well wait for the next opportunity to watch her.

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