THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016, Tate Taylor)
One way in which films get around cheating their way to a twist is by using the unreliable narrator gimmick. But does it count when the director is the unreliable narrator? If not, then the film is just lame. Taylor (who, ahem, “tailors” his style to the material he’s shooting; this lacks both the warm milquetoast of THE HELP and the hyperactive lunacy of GET ON UP) goes full Fincher here but without any of the intelligence. Instead, he just lies his way through a boring whodunit just so the killer isn’t as obvious as it would be if he played it honestly. Somehow he must know that without the flashback structure (probably taken from the book, though I haven’t read it) this story is about as low-stakes and dull as narratives get, so he dresses it up with the tone of a requiem. (Danny Elfman did the score but it might as well have been Reznor & Ross).
Emily Blunt manages to do fine work despite the goofiness of the plot, but Taylor strands other actors, notably Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson (completely unrecognizable from last year’s incredible ROGUE NATION), who are forced to play scenes in whatever way we’re supposed to be feeling about the characters at that moment, rather than as real people. It’s hard to say if Haley Bennett is the real deal — at times she comes across like the B-movie J-Law, but there are flashes of originality trying to get out from under this surprisingly heavy paperback.
If the film wanted to say anything about alcoholism, infidelity, parenthood, class, or subjective memory, it easily could have. But as if willed by the lords of airport bookstores, Taylor and writer Erin Cressida Wilson make sure to keep this as superficial and forgettable as possible. (Wilson may not be to blame — although she wrote the mercilessly-reviewed MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, she previously handled such top-notch pulp as CHLOE and SECRETARY; maybe she’s just as good as the material she adapts). The whole thing plays like a Showtime series: like THE AFFAIR sped up to under-two-hours with a hint of COLOR OF NIGHT thrown in. It’s so humorless that Lisa Kudrow and Laura Prepon are both in this movie and there still isn’t a single joke. Except maybe on the audience.