The Girl on the Train
Cary, NC – The Girl on the Train is the feature adaptation of the popular novel starring Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow) as an alcoholic divorcee that becomes embroiled in a missing persons investigation. Unfortunately, the film as a whole strains credibility while Blunt keeps the whole thing afloat thanks to an outstanding performance.
Director Tate Taylor (The Help) sets a dreary tone early on, which is fitting for a thriller/mystery such as this. However, the film goes over the top in its second half, leading to an unbalanced viewing experience. It’s a shame too, because I think there was an opportunity for some great melodrama here, which can make for a great experience as demonstrated by Gone Girl two years ago. But Taylor can’t quite get a grasp on the material, at least not in the end.
Blunt Gives Riveting, Heartfelt Performance
The film is peppered with a who’s who of character actors, all doing solid work: Justin Theroux (The Leftovers), Laura Prepon (Orange is the New Black), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation). But as I mentioned, it’s Emily Blunt who carries the film on her shoulders. Her performance is a heartbreaking ode to depression and alcoholism and there are moments where her character is almost unlikable, but Blunt goes all in and the result is outstanding.
What’s even more impressive is that while giving this great dramatic performance, she is also able to lean into the more over-the-top aspects of the story and while the rest of the film can’t quite rise to her level, especially in the second half, she keeps everything from falling apart. If nothing else, The Girl on the Train is a true testament to Blunt’s talent.
Overall, The Girl on the Train doesn’t quite satisfy. However, its star Emily Blunt delivers a riveting performance that almost saves the movie entirely. That being said, I think it’d be for the best if you saved your money and skip this one in theaters.
The Birth of a Nation
Cary, NC – When The Birth of a Nation premiered at Sundance, it set a record for most money offered for a picture. But when watching the final product, it is hard to see how the movie was worth it, offering up a mediocre drama about American history.
Straight-Forward and Simple
While The Birth of a Nation has been discussed mostly for the controversy surrounding its star, director and writer Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights, The Great Debaters), this review will only look at the movie.
The Birth of a Nation is the story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who fomented a revolt where other enslaved people killed not only their slave masters but the master’s families as well. Many details about the revolt are still questioned by historians but Birth of a Nation does not make any particularly bold claims. It features Turner, who gets a vision from God, begins to preach and leads an uprising against the surrounding slave-holding society.
And that is largely it. We get little in the way of personality from any of the characters and even Turner and his slave master Samuel Turner, played by Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) are not very well fleshed out. What little characterization we get is overturned with huge shifts in personality and action midway through the movie that are barely rooted in the story.
As Parker’s directorial debut, this movie does not make much of a statement. While a major motion picture about such a powerful figure in the history of American slavery is noteworthy on its own, the film does not go far beyond that. Turner’s religious awakening is showed with beams of light and a chorus and the people he battles are all the worst of the worst – all clichés.
This kind of straight-forward and dull approach could work if Birth of a Nation was more of an action movie but it is meant to be taken as a moving drama and a historical one at that. The scenes of violence and fighting are more grisly than what you might see in a typical historic piece but are not anymore cinematic or creative.
And as for the historic elements of Birth of a Nation, there is little attention given to establishing the context of the film and if you have a basic knowledge of American slavery, you will not come out of this movie with any new information.
For all the controversy surrounding both the film’s subject and its director, this is a largely forgettable movie. Nothing in it, aside from its subject matter, elevates it to anything noteworthy as far as movies are concerned.