Thursday 3 November 2016

Review by Robert Richardson of “The Girl on the Train” (2016, film, directed by Tate Taylor)

Alfred Hitchcock in many of his psychological thrillers, a genre he made his own, was skilful in applying light and shade: the carefree or humorous is contrasted with the twisted and murderous. Unlike action movies in which murder is a throwaway item, Hitchcock, born and brought up a Catholic, gives its true weight as the ultimate crime both in terms of the law and an accompanying sense of it being a terrible reality.

The Girl on the Train aspires to be a contemporary film in the Hitchcock mould, but it is all shade and does not have the variety of moods Hitchcock achieved. Nevertheless, it is a competent piece of filmmaking. The director, Tate Taylor, presents quite an intricate structure, playing with lengthy flashbacks (supported by titles indicating the position in time of a sequence of scenes), while the plot maintains its coherence. When revealed, the murderer (and no spoilers here) is shown to have the authentic narcissism of the psychopath. If all this sounds somewhat hackneyed, there is enough individuality in some of the characters, and their backstories, to avoid the stereotypical.
As with Hitchcock, the soundtrack is used to ratchet up tension. It also has an eerie quality, and this creates a dream-like atmosphere, although it is the underbelly of the American Dream, making it, of course, a nightmare. A wealthy suburban neighbourhood includes male characters with a disturbing desire to manipulate and control women, emotionally and sexually, but, thankfully, the females can be assertive with their own deceits.

Hitchcock directed stars such as Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. It was a strategy that added an existing glamour to the mix. The Girl On The Train lacks this. In its place, though, are some solid performances. Emily Blunt is wonderful as Rachel, a very fragile and damaged person who conjures up some determination and strength.

I saw the film at my local cinema, and it was packed out. It is easy to see why The Girl on the Train is a word of mouth hit: it delivers a superior rendition of the thriller, and the nastiness lurking beneath respectability provides the enjoyment of an easy moral high ground. It is destined, I think, to be shown time and time again on satellite movie channels. The Girl on the Train is a good film, but I’m not sure that I would want to see it twice, whereas Hitchcock’s very best films keep calling me back. 

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London), and he has recently exhibited online with the Paris based Corridor Elephant publishing project. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York). In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany.

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