THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (USA/15A/112mins)
Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney
THE PLOT: Since she sees her and her seemingly perfect life from the train as it passes her home every morning, Rachel (Emily Blunt) develops a fascination with Megan (Haley Bennett), who seems to have everything that Rachel wants in life – “She’s what I lost, she’s everything I want to be”. One morning, however, Rachel sees something out of the ordinary, and finds herself drawn into a missing persons case.
THE VERDICT: Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel of the same name, ‘The Girl on the Train’ not only follows the fad of films with the word “Girl” in the title – ‘Gone Girl’, ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ – but is a strong thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing.
Emily Blunt is on wonderful form as Rachel. Not only is Blunt’s drunk acting top notch, but she gives Rachel a fire and a fragility that makes the character compelling. Haley Bennett continues her current run of choosing strong roles as the manipulative and damaged Megan, and Rebecca Ferguson, although Anna is a somewhat loathsome character, makes her rounded and watchable. Luke Evans, Lisa Kudrow, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez and Laura Prepon are sadly underused, but Justin Theroux has a whale of a time with the protective but secretive Tom.
Erin Cressida Wilson’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel stays true to the book for the most part, although switching between character perspectives and stories feels a little more clunky on screen than it does on the page. The audience is given a chance to understand the female characters – even though there is an argument to be made that these vulnerable women are taken advantage of in the film, and painted badly – but Rachel is the woman around whom the story revolves. The mystery is carefully built throughout the film, which keeps the audience engaged, and as well as elements from the original story being removed, new characters have wisely been introduced for the film in order to keep it moving.
As director, Tate Taylor amps up the unsettling feel of ‘The Girl on the Train’, which starts from the opening moments, and carefully builds suspense as the story unfolds. The performances are well directed – particularly Blunt – and the pace of the film is well structured, and keeps moving as Rachel tries to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. There are some times when elements of the film are skimmed over and feel unsatisfying, and a certain character’s behaviour in the climactic moments of the film is rather problematic, but for the most part, Taylor has easily made the jump from the gentler ‘Get on Up’ and ‘The Help’ to this taut and engaging thriller.
In all, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is a carefully constructed thriller, with a slight Noir-esque, ‘Gas Light’ feel about it. The adaptation from book to screen is strong and Emily Blunt has rarely been better as she is as Rachel. There are issues with the film – particularly in the final act – but ‘The Girl on the Train’ is still suspenseful and entertaining.
Review by Brogen Hayes
BLOOD FATHER (France/15A/88mins)
Directed by Jean-Francois Richet. Starring Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna, Dale Dickey
THE PLOT: Living a clean and sober life since he got out of prison John Link (Mel Gibson) works as a tattoo artist and is trying to keep his head down. Link’s daughter has ben missing for three years, after she walked away from her mother’s home with no warning, so when she contacts Link out of the blue, he knows this is going to be trouble. He just doesn’t realise how much. Soon, Link finds himself in serious violation of his parole as he fights to save his daughter from drug dealers and thieves who are out to kill her.
THE VERDICT: Screening in the Midnight Screenings selection at Cannes, Mel Gibson’s latest feels like a natural follow up to his 2012 film ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’, with John Link being as reprehensible but loyal as the Driver in the previous film.
Mel Gibson easily carries this film as the offensive but loyal John Link. While this character is not afraid to offend or try to alienate those in his life, he is also charming and funny, with some great throwaway lines. Erin Moriarty appears in her second film at Cannes after ‘Captain Fantastic’ as Link’s drug addled, loud daughter, who has found herself in a situation that she cannot get out of. Like Maggie Grace in ‘Taken’, Moriarty does not have a whole lot to do here, but her chemistry with Gibson is solid, and the two work well together. The rest of the cast features Raoul Trujillo, Elisabeth Röhm, Diego Luna, Dale Dickey and William H. Macy in a small but pivotal role.
Based on the novel by Peter Craig, and written for the screen by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, ‘Blood Father’ feels rather familiar in a lot of ways; the comparison with ‘Taken’ is a fair one, but the film also feels like a postmodern Western, with the American landscape looking great and playing a large part in the film, and loyalties being brought into question and tested.
As director, Jean-François Richet – whose previous films include both ‘Mesrine’ films and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ certainly brings his eye for action to ‘Blood Father’ and allows even the smaller parts in the film – such as Macy and Luna’s – to be pivotal and engaging, but he is consistently struggling against a screenplay that feel rather familiar, even down to the ending. The pacing is rather messy, with huge lulls happening throughout the film, but there is fun to be had with this beautifully shot, over the top family driven action film, especially when Gibson and Macy share the screen together.
In all, ‘Blood Father’ is not necessarily anything new, but there is plenty of fun to be had with the film. Gibson is on rare form and works well with the rest of the cast, Erin Moriarty does well enough with what little she has to do and William H. Macy is always a delight to watch on screen. It does feel as though ‘Blood Father’ is very inspired by films that have gone before, and is desperately trying to be a Western, but the action is fun and there is plenty to enjoy. It’s just all a little forgettable in the end though.
Review by Brogen Hayes
MATTRESS MEN (Ireland/15A/81mins)
Directed by Colm Quinn. Starring Michael Flynn, Paul Kelly
THE PLOT: The bed and mattress salesman known as Mattress Mick – real name Michael Flynn – has become something of a sensation recently, due to his B-movie inspired YouTube videos and songs. Filmmaker Colm Quinn takes a look behind the scenes at the viral video sensation, and the man behind the magic; Paul Kelly, a part-time employee of one of Mick’s stores.
THE VERDICT: For those of us in Ireland, Mattress Mick is a household name due to his hilarious videos and antics on YouTube, which have caught the attention of the world and made Mick something of a local hero. That said, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is not much to tell about Mattress Mick – certainly not enough to fill an 81 minute film, despite his moving piece on Humans of Dublin earlier this year – but ‘Mattress Men’ is less of an examination of Mick himself, and more of a look at how people in Ireland are struggling to overcome the recession, even though we are not so reliably told that the economy is in recovery.
‘Mattress Men’ is framed around Paul Kelly, a man who works part time for Mattress Mick, and the one who came up with the idea for the deliberately cheap and slightly shoddy looking videos that have made Mick and his mattresses so famous. Paul is a man much like any other in Dublin; since the recession began in 2008, he has found himself made redundant twice and is still struggling to make ends meet for his young family. This is contrasted with Mick himself; when the recession struck him, Mick started to lose his businesses, and it was only through taking Paul’s ideas on board that the business began to thrive again, getting coverage all around the world – from Vice to The Sun newspaper, and tweets from Stephen Fry.
“Over the next few years” Mick tells us in voiceover “…I would like the Mattress Mick name to be as synonymous with mattresses as McDonald’s is with hamburgers”. This is all well and good, but since Paul is not getting paid for his creative work, and Mick is determined to bring in a promoter – Sean Mooney – trouble begins to set in in this small but effective marketing team.
‘Mattress Men’ paints a picture of Dublin that is not entirely flattering. The city is certainly not shown in its most flattering light, and both Mick and Paul are shown off for both their good sides and their bad. There is no real villain in ‘Mattress Men’ other than ambition, and it is because of this that the film begins to run out of steam about 60 minutes in. The real focus of the film is Paul, a man who is struggling, like many Irish people, to recover from the troubles visited upon them by the sudden recession. It is in Paul’s story, this microcosm of Irish life, that the story of the country as a whole, trying to make good and live their lives to the full. “Life isn’t supposed to be like this” states Paul in a moment of heartbreaking sincerity; surely this line has been repeated in every Irish household over the last eight years.
In all, ‘Mattress Men’ tells the story of the Irish recession and the devastating effect it had and still has on the country, through the microcosm. There are some scenes that feel deliberately staged for the cameras, and the film runs out of steam from time to time, but it is hard not to root for the plucky, charming and flawed people at the heart of this film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WAR ON EVERYONE (UK/16/98mins)
Directed by John Michael McDonagh. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Pena, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones
THE PLOT: Corrupt cops Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob (Michael Pena) celebrate their return from suspension by getting back to their old ways of extortion, bribery and generally breaking every law they can. When they cross paths with Lord Mangan (Theo James) however, it seems they have finally met their match.
THE VERDICT: After a turn toward drama with ‘Calvary’, John Michael McDonagh returns to drug fuelled comedy with War on Everyone; his first film not to be shot in Ireland or star Brendan Gleeson. Although McDonagh tries his best to make this absurd and over the top comedy work, the final result is puerile, offensive and unfunny.
Alexander Skarsgard leads the cast here as the vile and racist Terry. Walking with a hunch for much of the film, Skarsgard tries his best to make his double act with Michael Pena work, but since neither one takes the role of the straight man, and both try to be as offensive, racist and misogynistic as possible, this rarely works. Theo James plays an equally repellent character in Lord James Mangan, and succeeds in making the audience root against him, and Caleb Landry Jones plays Birdwell, a character who looks as though he was rejected from The Kinks and speaks almost unintelligibly. The rest of the cast features Tessa Thompson, David Wilmot, Malcolm Barrett, Derrick Barry and Keith Jardine.
The screenplay, written by John Michael McDonagh is, quite frankly, a mess. The only motivation for the characters appears to be the fact that they can get away with being abhorrent and racist, and although the film tries to be an equal opportunities offender – racist, misogynistic, homophobic and violent – the fact that the characters get away with being horrific human beings implies that their actions are OK and should be accepted. The dialogue is peppered with insults throughout, which start off as mildly amusing but quickly become tiresome. The story of the film is unintelligible, with drug dealing, murder and child abuse cropping up but barely being explored, so as well as being objectionable, the film makes little sense.
As director, McDonagh seems to have been inspired by music, and there are times when this works very well in the film – especially the John Cena Walkout Theme and Rhinestone Cowboy – but musical montages do not make for a strong film. Add to this explosions of violence and scenes that seem to have been inserted just for the sake of a joke – including a whole subplot of a trip to Reykjavik – which undermines the attempts at story throughout the film. As well as this, the pacing is a mess, characters are never truly explained and subplots are muddled and unclear.
In all, ‘War on Everyone’ is an objectionable film about corrupt cops. The film is puerile, tiresome and unfunny, although it tries valiantly to be a comedy. None of the cast particularly deliver and the pacing, story and delivery are a mess. ‘War on Everyone’ should have been McDonagh’s return to form, but is more disjointed and messy than ‘Calvary’, and that’s saying something.
Review by Brogen Hayes