The Girl On The Train

Director: Tate Taylor (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Calling at all stations to murder via stalking, infidelity and kidnap, this chilly mystery drama still manages to be a very dull journey.

Not afraid to upset the hardcore fans of the best selling book on which it’s based, the setting has been changed from the UK to the US. Yet Brit born and naturalised US citizen Emily Blunt doesn’t mind the Atlantic gap, being suitably downbeat and occasionally manic as Rachel, the girl on the train.

While on her daily commute to New York, Rachel sees what she thinks is evidence linked to the disappearance of a local girl. Megan was a nanny to the daughter of Anna, now happily married to Rachel’s ex husband. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson form a formidable acting trio alongside Blunt.

Best known as Phoebe from TV’s Friends, Lisa Kudrow’s brief appearance makes you wish you were watching that show instead, it doesn’t help she’s playing a character called Monica opposite one called Rachel. Although always a welcome screen presence, employing an actress whose career has been defined by light comedy jars with the resolutely grim mood.

As a police detective, Allison Janney explains to Rachel and to us, exactly how increasingly preposterous her story and behaviour are. It’s great to have a film with this many dominant female roles.

I imagine the cop character is supposed to represent the perception of the tendency of state authorities’ to victim blame in domestic abuse cases. But such is the far fetched nature of the story, you can’t help but nod along with her unsympathetic incredulity.

These ridiculous plot twists means we can’t take any of it seriously. It fails in every way to be a hard hitting examination of domestic abuse. And taken as a rabid potboiler, it lacks the trashy sense of fun and gleeful malice which made David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) such an entertaining watch.

Lies, memories and fantasies combine as the silliness unfolds from the differing point of view of the three connected women. We see how they perceive one another is far different to the truth of their circumstances.

The extreme dullness of the villain may well be a comment of the banal nature of everyday evil, but I greeted the unmasking with a shrug of indifference. Plus the silly finale caused giggles at the world premiere, which I can’t imagine is the response the film-makers were aiming for.

The story pootles along through a flat landscape of scenes devoid of big screen spectacle and it feels like a lacklustre Sunday evening TV mini-series whodunnit.

But not one worth missing Poldark for.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

 

High-Rise

Diretor: Ben Wheatley (2016)

This towering cinematic achievement offers the audience a dark view of modern life.

British director Ben Wheatley brings to J.G. Ballard’s 1975 blood soaked satirical sci fi novel vividly to life.

With The Kill List (2011) Sightseers (2012) and A Field In England (2013) under his belt, he has the most singular vision of any British director working today.

Aided by his scriptwriter and wife Amy Jump, Wheatley has erected another uniquely English construction of comedy, horror, politics, sex and violence.

Currently starring in TV’s The Night Manager, Tom Hiddleston is hugely impressive as Dr. Robert Laing.

He’s just moved into a skyscraper and is determined to fit in to the rigid social hierarchy.

Living in the penthouse with his nostalgia obsessed wife and her private menagerie is the pointedly named Anthony Royal.

It’s another intelligent performance from Jeremy Irons. The buildings architect a godlike figure who can’t understand the free will of the chaotic people who populate his creation.

Royal believes he has left one crucial ingredient out of his building, but he hasn’t taken account of the effect of the building on the people who live there.

Laing has a short lived affair with the single mother who lives on the floor above. As the seductive and brittle Charlotte, Sienna Miller relishes the opportunity offered by the role to essay a complex character and delivers a strong and memorable performance.

Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss as the fertile working class couple on a lower floor are among the strong supporting cast.

As it’s cutting edge 1970’s technology fails, the high-rise deteriorates and Laing starts to suffer a nervous breakdown.

While the penthouse hosts regency themed cocktail parties and swingers accumulate on the shag pile rug, the poor are blamed for their own misfortunes.

There are riots in the supermarket and violent class war descends into animal behaviour.

Styled in the 1970’s the decade the book was written, it’s a concrete, plastic and polythene world dressed in lurid shades of nylon sportswear.

The concept of recycling is in the future, nature is absent or seen as polluting, a hindrance, and a threat. Organic matter is something to be fenced off, bagged up and removed.

A smart script, great design, excellent performances and brilliant use of music combine in powerful critique of social engineering.

Although containing many ideas which are prescient, the power cuts, bodies and bin bags piling up are powerful reminders of headlines of the decade but the historical relevance may need explaining to a younger audience.

But seen from a distance, none of this undermines the soaring strength of the storytelling technique.

 

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Director: Peter jackson (2014)

Fighting on too many fronts is never a good idea and this epic fantasy trilogy comes to an underwhelming close.

Scale is epic and design is stunning and performances suitably large and loud but sadly the massive battles and computer effects are better than the storytelling of the human (elf, hobbit or dwarf) dramas.

This should be a straightforward tale of greed set against the backdrop of a brutal battle. But instead it becomes confused and stuck in a quagmire of subplots as too many minor characters fight for screen time.

Fili or possibly Kili aside, the company of dwarves are lost in the morass while cowardly Alfrid lickspittle (Ryan Gage) is crow-barred in to offer comic relief and clutter the over-stuffed cast list.

Hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is virtually a spectator and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) does little better. This is a shame as Freeman brings rare moments of contemplative quiet among what is otherwise a ferocious and overextended dust up.

Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is levered in to silly effect and the dwarf/elf romance between Fili or possibly Kili and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is developed and is even more unconvincing than it sounds.

Five Armies begins where the last film, The Desolation of Smaug, ended, with a brilliantly exciting attack by the dragon Smaug on Laketown.

He is stopped by heroic bowman Bard (Luke Evans) and with Smaug’s death, dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) becomes king of Erebor but his obsession with gold is turning him insane.

Elf lord Thranduil (Lee Pace), riding a giant moose and heading his golden army, joins up with Bard’s men to  challenge Thorin.

But they all unite when legions of orcs arrive and the skull-splitting slaughter begins. Arrows fly, swords crash and heads roll as armoured trolls, goats, pigs, eagles and a free-falling bear drop into the action.

The action and design are spectacular and the film dovetails nicely  into the first Lord of the Rings movie.

By trying to hit too many targets, the previously sure-sighted director Peter Jackson misses the mark.

☆☆