The Arts

Flicks: Girl on the Train is a crisp melodrama

flicks-main-girlonthetrainDrama with dignity

***

The compassionate detachment that writer/director brings to Chronic matches that of its protagonist, David (Tim Roth), a home-care nurse who tends the dying with dutiful diligence and a low-key yet pragmatic sympathy for his charges.
With cinematographer Yves Cape’s camera consistently stationery, the story follows David through his daily routine, an endless cycle that somehow assuages him or distracts him, from his own guilt and grief. There aren’t a lot of laughs in Chronic, but a gentle humanity shines through, particularly in David’s interaction with his patients (including Robin Bartlett and playwright/director Michael Cristofer, both matching Roth’s excellence).
Roth, also an executive producer, gives one of his more likable performances, even though the character of David remains something of an enigma throughout. The glimpses into his private life indicate he’s subjugated not just past tragedies but the very vestiges of his own true personality. In the end, we scarcely know him better than we did at the beginning, although it’s clear he has a deep empathy for others – if not necessarily for himself.
That the film won the Best Screenplay award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival is interesting, as the characters are as defined as much by their movements and gestures – often filmed from a respectful distance – as their words. Chronic is subtle film that nevertheless speaks volumes, although its twist ending might have packed more punch had it not recently become commonplace in other films.

– Chronic opens Friday

A rocky romance

***

Mon Roi (My King), the latest film from actress-turned-filmmaker Maiwenn (born Maiwenn Le Besco), is a portrait of a romantic relationship in all its ups and downs, reflected upon by Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot), an attorney recovering from a recent skiing mishap.
The object of her 10-year affections – and sometimes antagonism – has been Georgio (Vincent Cassel), a handsome, adventurous restaurateur whose powerful charms mask a deep-seated insecurity and irresponsibility.
Not that Tony is without blame herself, and the film’s screenplay (by Maiwenn and Etienne Comar) takes great pains – and its time – examining the flaws in both characters in a series of flashbacks, some of which are acutely uncomfortable in their believability.
There’s definitely a thematic resemblance to Ingmar Bergman’s classic Scenes from a Marriage (1973), which proves not to be a bad thing since Maiwenn brings a sharp eye to the proceedings. Even when the story meanders, which it certainly does, Maiwenn also has the added benefit of Cassel and Bercot, both of whom are terrific, displaying an effortless chemistry that makes their relationship altogether believable.
(In French with English subtitles)

– Mon Roi (My King) opens Friday

Suspicious minds

***

The Girl on the Train, adapted from Paula Hawkins’ best-seller by sceenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Tate Taylor, is a crisp and classy mystery melodrama that remains taut and true to the novel.
Emily Blunt portrays the title character, Rachel Watson, who travels every day to and from New York City, drinking herself into oblivion and gazing wistfully from her window at the house she once lived in, when she was married to Tom (Justin Theroux), who has since married Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) – although they live nearby, and Anna is none too thrilled by Rachel’s unwanted, lingering attention.
Rachel’s attention is constantly drawn to Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), an attractive neighbor whose sudden and inexplicable disappearance becomes an obsession for Rachel, who suspects she might somehow have been involved but was too inebriated to remember.
There are other characters seemingly integral to the plot, including Megan’s husband (Luke Evans), Megan’s handsome psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez), Rachel’s roommate (Laura Prepon), and the obligatory detective (reliable Allison Janney) assigned to the case.
In unraveling its twisty yarn – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what The Girl on a Train is — the film doesn’t necessarily play by traditional cinematic conventions, although it leans heavily on literary ones, yet it never strays too far. There are secrets and there are lies, hidden agendas and surreptitious betrayal, and somewhere at the heart of all that is the identity of a killer.
The performances are all first-rate, even if some of the film’s most interesting peripheral characters tend to be pushed aside or ignored altogether as the narrative concentrates on the mystery. Blunt and Ferguson are excellent, and although Bennett bears an uncanny resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence, she comes into her own with a complex role. Theroux, whose marriage to Jennifer Aniston has frequently overshadowed his legitimate talents (he earned an Oscar nomination for the Tropic Thunder screenplay), also delivers a fine performance.
Character depth aside, The Girl on the Train is a whodunit at heart, and the characters (red herrings, many of them) are functionaries of the plot, and therefore expendable in service to that ultimate end, hence the truncated roles of Janney and particularly Prepon, who all but vanishes from the narrative (and not because her character disappears).
Nevertheless, The Girl on the Train is very much the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner, and it’s also refreshing to watch a mature, grown-up film populated by believable characters. Consistently absorbing yet shrewdly executed, to say nothing of shrewdly marketed, The Girl on the Train yields solid dividends on the investment.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92 (92.3 FM). Copyright 2016, Mark Burger

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