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The Girl on the Train is a sexy intriguing enough thriller of the sort that predominantly was made 20 years ago. Based on the bestseller by Paula Hawkins, it has interesting references to gender politics abound and there’s enough mystery to keep you involved but the real strong point of the film is an effective performance from Emily Blunt.

Part of the appeal of any mystery thriller is not knowing too much about the plot and letting twists unfold. So keeping it short, the premise of the opening moments is Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a recent divorcee and high functioning alcoholic trying to move on with her life. Catching the train to work every day she notices a woman Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) outside the train window in a house that can be viewed from the commute. It’s a nice house, she’s pretty and her husband Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) seen in evenings on the way home is handsome. Ideals for her own happiness are projected onto the seemingly perfect life these two seem to have. However it is all a matter of perspective and the young woman goes missing.

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The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister? Image result for the girl on the train haley bennett The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other. That goes the same for Rachel Watson and the third major female character in the film Anna Boyd played by Rebecca Ferguson. Most people are many things and then there are some who are not. Some who are different from us, the kind who would harm someone, maybe murder them.

The Girl on the Train has a lot of fun making us wonder who out of the main characters have done something like that and why. Motivations appear for everyone and our central protagonist realises through the fog of alcoholism she can’t trust what she has seen or knows with any certainty which is a neat place to put our lead character and audience. The narrative is not told in a linear fashion but split and told from the point of view of Rachel, Megan and Anna providing new insight into previous scenes. Like a lot of mysteries it may hold less interest once you know the outcome.

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The cast may pull you back though, Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband Tom trying to look out for her but also trying to protect his new family Anna and their child, Rebecca Ferguson (making less impact here than she did in the last Mission Impossible) as Anna once the other woman now a new mother more fearful and tired than she was before the baby,  Luke Evans as Megan’s handsome but imposing husband who is the most obvious suspect but also most obvious patsy, Edgar Ramirez as Dr. Kamal Abdic as Megan’s thoughtful psychiatrist who may helping himself more than Megan, Allison Janney as the cynical Detective Sergeant Riley cop who trusts the evidence far more than troubled eye witnesses and Darren Goldstein who stares at Blunt in bars near where the girl went missing. Who of them is guilty of something? Who of them is innocent? Who amongst us could say we’re both. Some characters get more time to tell their story; some actors make a bigger impact with their performance than others.

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None more so than Blunt who is the main reason to see the film. With bleary eye make-up applied and she still looks like Emily Blunt, one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. Whether she looks dowdy is irrelevant to the story, she is hurting and she is a wreck. Beauty can’t do much about that in the end. We see her full of pain and regret and anger but also fear and doubt. Most importantly though we see she is trying to do the right thing even if she is imperfect and broken and we’re right there with her. Blunt acts so well, whether crying on cue in a one take close up shot on her face during a confession or when screaming manically at mirrors as anger comes to the forefront. She sells the character being capable of several mental states and therefore capable of vastly difference actions perhaps. It is after all a matter of perspective.

The film directed by Tate Taylor is effectively moody, the fogginess of American East Coast winter supporting the feeling of fogginess one gets from intoxication. This is a bleak place with not much colour or warmth, a perfect place to commit murder where people hide in their houses and defer from walking streets too much and woods stretch out on the horizon capable of hiding too many secrets where people wouldn’t dare to tread. Fincher made a better looking film that shocked with where it took its leads in Gone Girl a couple of years ago but you can’t have a Gone Girl every year. This will do nicely for that market and maybe some will enjoy it more. After all it is all a matter of perspective.

-Lloyd Marken

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There really never has been stunt like Tom Cruise’s dry hump of an Airbus while taking off from the ground and rising to 5,000 feet. It’s a ballsy move with a great payoff. As the subwoofers in the cinema kick in and Cruise’s little legs kick out behind him before the ground drops away in a heartbeat you’re thrilling not just because a movie star is doing this but the way that it is shot because the movie star is doing this. It is worth every penny of insurance money they must have paid. Rightfully so Paramount have made it the lynchpin of their media campaign from Tom Cruise endlessly talking about the stunt in interviews to it being the star of the teaser trailer and the teaser for the teaser trailer. The first poster featured the stunt with no interest in plot or co-stars. Yet even ballsier than doing the stunt itself is putting it in the first five minutes of the film where its link to the rest of the plot is minor at best. The message is implicit “You ain’t seen nothing yet folks.” And you haven’t. While it might remain the most spectacular stunt of the film there are three major set pieces to come with my personal favourite being the assassination plot at the Austrian Opera House. Beautifully choreographed to set up the space for the audience we see Hunt dangle above the stage of the opera Turandot in a dangerous tousle with a much larger opponent running out of time and options to stop a two pronged attack on a political leader. The beautiful aria Neesum Dorma is used to both ominous effect here as we near the climax of the piece and later as a poignant background music around the central connection between the two lead characters of Ethan Hunt and Isla Faust.

I suppose I should explain the plot but at this point these films survive on mood, performances and yes set pieces. Caring about Ethan Hunt seems almost inconsequential next to whether the car chase through Casablanca was shot well. Maybe because Ethan Hunt is really Tom Cruise and whether you like Mission Impossible depends on whether you like the Cruise persona. For my money only Simon Pegg shows up playing a character with heart and personality. I suspect this is why he gets the lion share of the support work. The rest are stand ins for roles. Ving Rhames the old friend who is loyal to the end. Jeremy Renner the stressed bureaucrat working the angles for his friends from the inside. How six years can make a difference? There was a time perhaps when Cruise would’ve been getting pushed into this role and Renner would be the star of the film especially given their age difference but I guess then The Bourne Legacy happened. Alec Baldwin earns his paycheque with a speech about Hunt that is either wonderfully tongue in cheek or stupendously over the top delivered straight and with gravitas in the way only Baldwin can. The villain appears fleetingly making the audience share the elusiveness Hunt feels for his prey. Right until the end the film lays breadcrumbs that Ethan Hunt the physically adept hero who has always beaten his opponents maybe outsmarted here.

I guess I still haven’t mentioned the plot. Before I do that may I just say that a Star is Born! Rebecca Ferguson plays the aforementioned female lead of the film, Ilsa a spy whose loyalties remain in question throughout the story. The camera lovingly lingers on her long lean legs coming out of an immaculately constructed ball gown but also frames her face capturing a thousand words unspoken in her meaningful but mysterious gaze. The script makes her the equal of Hunt in several showdowns and Ferguson herself sells her fight scenes and engages in two stunts with Cruise that back this up. It seems more than coincidence that all the middle aged male stars of previous entries could make it back but Maggie Q and Paula Patton were unavailable and it is disappointing but neither of those actresses ever made as big an impact in their roles as Rebecca Ferguson does here. God help me if they don’t bring her back in the sequel, hell she can even have her own spin off if she can bring herself to do another one with all the great offers she should get because Goddamnit ladies and a gentleman a star is born!!!

Beyond being Hunt’s equal, there is an elegantly understated romance at the heart of the film. Hunt can’t trust Isla for most of the film and previous entries in the film have seen Ethan turn his back on romance for the greater good. Isla suggests to Hunt later in the film when the stakes are getting high that they can run away together. They’ve paid their dues and there will always be another mission. This may be his last chance at happiness. The film may not go into depth about this but an exchange of looks between them later speaks a thousand words. They make their choices.

There’s something incredible meta about what each Mission Impossible film has been and where it has landed in Tom Cruise’s career, the first back in 1996 was Cruise’s first stab at a franchise and being an action hero, Jon Voight got the drop on him in a fight scene and at the dawn of CGI in blockbusters the finale involving the Channel Bullet Train heavily relied upon such effects but it also showed Cruise doing real stunts in some of the best sequences. 19 years later and Cruise’s biggest movies are his action movies at a time when maybe he should be slowing down and acknowledging his age. When the character Ethan Hunt is left to ponder how long can he keep up this line of work and keep serving his government loyally when they fail to reciprocate that loyalty there’s another layer to it. As are the jokes about Hunt’s capabilities but also limits. Whatever ego Cruise shows in real life, as producer and star he wisely pokes fun at the supposed invincibility of his hero. 

I never did get to the plot but not to fret. Mission Impossible 5 is mostly style over substance, well cast, excellent set pieces and exotic locales. What little character motivations there are shown is mostly in furtive glances but what glances. Hell do a whole super cut of Rebecca Ferguson looking down the lens of the camera and I’ll watch it. Did I mention a star is born?! The first entry is still the best film of the lot, however both my frustrations with this entry and my love of it give rise to the same feeling and that feeling is…I am quite looking forward to Mission Impossible 6. Well done Mr Hunt. Mission Complete.


 -Lloyd Marken