Monday 20 January 2020

Film review: The Girl on the Train - the finale unseats the tension

Cert: 15A. Now showing.

Pressure: Emily Blunt takes on Paula Hawkins’ Rachel in the film adaptation of ‘Girl on the Train’
Pressure: Emily Blunt takes on Paula Hawkins’ Rachel in the film adaptation of ‘Girl on the Train’
Mattress Mick

Bookshelves are groaning under the weight of dark thrillers with "girl" in the title. Arguably, Stieg Larsson got the ball rolling with his now-ubiquitous Scandi-noir trilogy before Gillian Flynn conquered all with 2012's Gone Girl. When Paula Hawkins put out The Girl on the Train last year, it was a smash on both sides of the pond. Like Larsson and Flynn, Hollywood came a-knocking.

The story was told via the first-person narratives of three women, a trick that director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson dabble with here but mostly eschew in favour of using that of rail-pass-user Rachel. Emily Blunt throbs as the fragile 32-year-old alcoholic in a bad way following the collapse of her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux, real-life husband of Jennifer Aniston). She peers out from the New York commuter train each day to and from the city at her former home, now the domain of Tom, new partner Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby. After a day on the vodka, she's also prone to stalking them by phone or foot.

But Rachel is also obsessed with Tom's beautiful neighbours, Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans). She invents a picture of loved-up newlywed bliss that is one day distorted when she sees Megan with another man. Rachel awakes from a blackout the next day to find herself covered in blood before learning that Megan has gone missing. Alison Janney's no-nonsense police detective turns up at Rachel's apartment door after Anna reported seeing her in the neighbourhood. Still with us?

If you are unfamiliar with the source material, Taylor's film will certainly keep you guessing, which it should. Smart cinematography and Danny Elfman's score brew heady atmospherics but the finale unseats this tension as it shuffles to a halt. More sting in the tail would have been nice. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Mattress Men                 

Cert: 15A, Now showing.

If you've ever been stuck in traffic at the Five Lamps, you'll have seen it. You couldn't miss it, in fact. The gaudy, yellow billboard with garish pink font advertising something called "Mattress Mick The Price Fighter", with an image of a bespectacled sexagenarian with an unruly grey barnet.

Michael Flynn (below) is the gentleman in these ads but the reinvention from everyday store owner to king of kitsch was the brainchild of marketeer Paul Kelly, who understood the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Mattress Mick

Colm Quinn's film arguably looks closer at Kelly, who was unemployed when he stepped forward to help Flynn boost his profile. We see the meetings and storyboards for the gloriously shambolic YouTube campaigns and the whoops of delight when Stephen Fry tweets about the billboard. We also witness the strain put on his own family life and the run-ins with Flynn himself who perhaps did not give Kelly the credit he fully deserved for his efforts.

As Kelly looks to work himself back into gainful employment, Mattress Men becomes something of a recessionary Dublin fable about a family man doing his best in an unforgiving economic environment. There are some dips in momentum here and there, and maybe even the odd bit of scripting is folded into Quinn's supposedly fly-on-the-wall approach, but the package is undeniably charming in its own peculiar way. What the film itself will do for Mattress Mick, who has achieved a kind of dandy folk-hero status of late, remains to be seen but as far as Quinn is concerned, it shows him to be a filmmaker of resourcefulness and keen observational skill. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

Blood Father 

Cert: 15A. Now Showing

It's been a strange decade for Mel Gibson who, after stints as both heart-throb megastar and then respected director, slid into the wilderness of bad reputation. Recently spotted sampling the delights of Dublin as he shoots The Professor and the Madman, he is back in cinemas this week doing a Liam Neeson. Now 60, in Blood Father Gibson is an angry daddy out to protect his estranged daughter. It's simple, old-school, rough enough and does exactly what it says on the tin.

Gibson plays John Link, grizzled ex-con trying to stay sober in a remote Californian trailer park under the sponsorship of Kirby Curtis (William H Macy).

He must live under strict parole conditions or risk going back to prison. But when his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) calls after being missing and on milk cartons for three years, what is a daddy to do? The 17-year-old has fallen foul of her boyfriend's (Diego Luna) Mexican gang cohorts and is on the run. They soon track her down to her father's trailer, so daddy and daughter head out on the road looking for a solution.

Directed by Jean-Francois Richet, who made the amazing Mesrine movies, from a screenplay by the very talented Peter Crag and Andrea Berloff, this is a film that knows what it wants to be and delivers it exactly.

Blood Father is a slick talkin', cliché peddlin', fairly violent and sweary old-school pulp fiction chase movie.

It won't leave you thinking for days but it is enjoyable, action-packed and a bit knowingly silly.

It is easy to see why Gibson was once such a big star and Moriarty holds her own well alongside him. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

De Palma

Cert: Club. In Light House Cinema 

Not that it was ever in doubt, but De Palma is part of a cabal of superstar directors who defined late 20th Century US cinema, along with Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola. First names are superfluous with these masters.

But perhaps what separates Brian de Palma from the rest of this lofty rat pack is that he was coming from a background of science, and used film not only as a tool to capture the world in a technical sense but also saw it as a series of challenges to figure out. Directing, he argues in this fine documentary portrait, is observation, something his hero Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, we learn, was De Palma's year zero) would surely have agreed with. The filmmaker is watching and noting key dynamics on both sides of the lens. He used split screens, tracking shots and Steadicam stalking for subjects in front of the lens. Managing the egos behind it was trickier.

For a giant of the medium, he's superb company throughout this extended interview from Noah Baumbach (not an obvious De Palma disciple) and Jake Paltrow (filmmaker and brother of Gwyneth). At 76, the New Jersey native is able to laugh at himself and his missteps (Mission To Mars, Obsession) while speaking candidly and squarely about the times he got it right (take your pick from any of Scarface, Carrie, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way). Such self-effacement is not the norm with film directors.

Vitally, he is generous with details from his youth as the science-whizz son of a surgeon father who "grew up in an operating room" and "saw a lot of blood", and threads the professional and personal together with subtlety.

4 Stars

Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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