So maybe I watched this one too soon after seeing the recent Brian De Palma documentary De Palma (2015) after watching a run of De Palma movies. Maybe I’m too big a fan of the 90’s films where Micheal Douglas’ manhood (mental and physical) and some shlocky plotting act as a gateway for a really interesting discussion about gender roles and machismo, or any one of a number of filmmakers who used genre to make us think and talk.
The Girl on the Train (2016), whilst being a decent film is perhaps a little too ‘decent’ for it’s own good. Despite a cast that’s game there isn’t enough fun or provocation within the film to get it over the hill of the final act revelations. Recent thrillers like Side Effects (2013) and Gone Girl (2014) knew that they were indecent and just went for it as the directors had the skill to play with the form. The Girl on the Train seems a bit preoccupied with ‘quality’ to really play any games… which is a real pity as there is so much fun to be had with the way that ‘story’ and viewing are placed front and centre.
It should have been wittier and it’s very telling that the only conversations I’ve had about the film concern it’s structure.
Ultimately the problem is a film about BDSM that doesn’t seem too interested in BDSM, It likes the promise and the paraphernalia of it, the (unused) equipment and that room, but the actual act is beyond the good taste of a mass release movie. In short, there is no danger here, no feeling of being at the edge, no spark. Plus it can’t quite make up it’s mind whether sexual exploration is healthy or something practised only by the damaged or confused.
This is not the terrible film that one would expect, not by a long shot, but it needed to either be a damn lot less respectful and contentious or a heck of a lot more confident. This is a film that should have taken us back to the early 90’s and the debates that pour out of films like Disclosure (1994), Falling Down (1993) or anything else with Michael Douglas…
…it doesn’t get anywhere close.
There was a string of films in the late 80’s / early 90’s that are sometimes referred to as the ‘talkies’. Most of them starred Michael Douglas and all of them got people talking through taking on various issues in a variety of ways. Not all of the movies were great but many of them started some kind of public discourse. Of course the world was simpler then and there is a lot more noise now but these films are still vital in all senses and can still create debate, passion and anger… Prisoners should be one of these films and frequently threatens to be but doesn’t really get there. It takes on two modern concerns in a front and centre way but just gets a bit lost when it should either be a slap or a scream in the face.
In pure thriller terms it does the business, and that is largely due to an excellent cast who all get their share of moments and a tough streak that hits just the right note of desperation, but because it introduces big ideas and doesn’t do anything with them you’re never going to turn to a friend and suggest they watch it just because you’d love to know their take on it.