What I’ve Been Watching: The Girl on the Train and The Accountant

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I watched two disappointing movies, so you don’t have to. Feel free to thank me later.

Since I can’t write up full reviews on both of these at the moment, here’s a few thoughts on why each of them isn’t worth your time.

Film: The Girl on the Train
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Paula Hawkins (novel)
Primary Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennet, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Lisa Kudrow
US Release Date: 7 October 2016

I haven’t read the Paula Hawkins novel on which Taylor’s film is based, but I was still incredibly let down by The Girl on the Train. I knew virtually nothing about the movie’s source material when I first saw its trailer, but I was excited by the prospect of a dark and sexy psychological thriller starring Emily Blunt. What I hoped for from The Girl on the Train was something powerful, artful, heavy, and even subversive. Ignorant as I was of Tate Taylor’s filmography, I even dared to dream of something Fincher-esque.

How foolish of me.

Put simply, The Girl on the Train is little more (and nothing less) than a big-budget Lifetime movie. It’s all pulp and no substance. All spectacle and no elegance. It’s a reminder of just how much restraint and control goes into making a film like Gone Girl, which walks the line between trash and art with much more success than this one.

The film starts well enough as it relies on Blunt’s voice-over narration to draw viewers in; but once it starts introducing other characters and unravelling the spool of mystery, it all falls apart rather quickly. Taylor’s previous films include The Help and Get on Up, neither of which ever piqued my interest. I can only guess why Taylor choose to stretch himself by tackling a psychological thriller like The Girl on the Train, but in doing so he has revealed some considerable weaknesses on his behalf.

And he isn’t helped at all by the fact that Wilson’s script is garbage.

The screening at which I saw The Girl on the Train was filled with laughter, virtually none of which was intended by the film or its writer. This film wants to be psychologically complex and thematically mature. It wants to be a heavy and decidedly adult thriller that rivets audiences. Instead, The Girl on the Train devolves into simplistic and poorly executed exploitation, is over-the-top and under-developed in the wrong places, and features a number of clumsy lines that throw its tone off-balance. The film is far more ridiculous than it is harrowing, and it’s hard to take any of it seriously as a result.

Though it’s basic premise invites daring ideas, Taylor’s film is lamentably lacking in depth. This tale of violence, substance abuse, psychological trauma, and obsession is terribly one-dimensional. This is partly because none of the characters other than Rachel (Blunt) are developed in a compelling and coherent fashion (and even then, she remains misused). That said, it’s also because the script is simply not smart enough to say anything interesting. The Girl on the Train repeatedly prioritizes spectacle over characters and message, and the result is a work that would make more sense as a made-for-TV movie.

For all my complaints, I’m compelled to acknowledge that Emily Blunt is not the problem with this film. Her attachment to the project may have helped the shitshow get produced, but she pulls her weight regardless of the movie’s flaws. Unfortunately, The Girl on the Train’s script and its particular approach to the subject matter are both beneath her. She brings Rachel’s shredded nerves and damaged state to life vividly and viscerally, but that’s not enough to save the hot mess that is Taylor’s film.

After watching The Girl on the Train, I am reminded that forgetting to factor in the director of a film when forming initial expectations for it is a mistake. I’m also left wondering whether Luke Evans will ever be in a movie worth-watching.

Save your money. Don’t pay for a ticket to The Girl on the Train. Just rewatch Gone Girl instead. In the meantime, I’ll quietly mourn for the dark and subversive feminist revenge thriller that could have been. (Maybe Nocturnal Animals will fuck me up enough that I’ll forget all about Tate Taylor’s mess. Please don’t let me down, Tom Ford.)

Film: The Accountant
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer: Bill Dubuque
Primary Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Robert C. Treveiler
US Release Date: 14 October 2016

The Accountant is not good, but it is marginally better—and considerably more enjoyable if you just turn your brain off—than The Girl on the Train.

The main issue with The Accountant is that it lacks identity. O’Connor’s (Warrior) latest tries to be multiple movies at once, but it doesn’t execute any of them particularly well. Clearer purpose and a heavily revised script could have improved The Accountant a great deal; as it stands, the film is too scattered, and its attention is spread too thin to give rise to anything that might justify the price of a movie ticket. Thanks largely to Ben Affleck’s presence and to good number of fight scenes, The Accountant has the potential to be a middling crowd-pleaser, but it remains forgettable, ineffective, and half-baked.

Bill Dubuque (The Judge) wrote The Accountant, and the film’s script seems to be the source of nearly all of its problems. First, the film has too many supporting characters. Those played by Simmons and Addai-Robinson both add nothing worthwhile to the film; in fact, their storyline distracts from main plot and prevents O’Connor from developing Chris (Affleck) as much as he should have. Simmons and Addai-Robinson could have been cut from the film entirely; they are kept in, because The Accountant can’t decide if it wants to be a character-study, an action film, a family drama, a love story, or a crime procedural.

Those scenes dedicated to its (largely) flat and ineffective supporting characters also weaken the film, because viewers are given very little to care about or to hang onto whenever Affleck isn’t around. Chris is by far the most interesting part of the The Accountant, and yet it repeatedly abandons him for dull plot points and clichéd, underwritten shadows.

With the exception of one scene near the end, The Accountant also fails to portray any strong connection between any of its characters. Dana (Kendrick) appears in the film as a companion who can bring out a softer side in Chris, but she is so underdeveloped that any emotion he seems to feel for her comes off as hollow and forced. The film also effectively abandons her for such a long stretch that viewers may forget she exists at all.

Murky plot points, a number of cringe-inducing lines, and some horribly misguided use of flashback don’t help The Accountant much either.

I won’t say much about The Accountant’s portrayal of autism, simply because I am not educated enough on the matter to discuss in any detail whether or not it’s responsible in that regard; however, I will say that my instincts tell me it isn’t. Shortly after watching the film, I half-jokingly tweeted that its message seems to be that “even if you’re autistic, you can still be as cool as Ben Affleck as long as your father is abusive.” The more I think about the film, the more I feel uneasy about its use of autism. Dubuque and O’Connor’s intentions were probably good (or at least, not malicious), but the result misses the mark.

There are bits of good stuff in The Accountant, but none of them are properly developed. O’Connor’s film constantly redefines itself without ever really becoming anything in the first place. Affleck’s screen presence and his character’s idiosyncrasies could form the foundation of a compelling film, but neither is properly utilized. The film’s attempts to blend occasional humor with dark character study and violent action could have resulted in decent film. The Accountant desperately needs someone to take control of its story; to distill it down to only its best ideas and to then build it back up again. Unfortunately, it’s far too late for that now.

At least Ben Affleck remains as sexy as ever…

Until Next Time
Other films I’ve recently watched for the first time include I Confess, The Wrong Man, and Robot Stories. To keep up with me when I’m not posting, head on over to my twitter or letterboxd.

Thanks so much for reading. If you think I’m wrong about either of these films, feel free to let me know with a comment (comments are moderated by the way). There are brief flashes of potential in each film, and I have a feeling that a lot of viewers will more or less enjoy The Accountant at least. However, both movies take far too many missteps to overlook, and neither ends up where it wants to go.

Also, for those interested, here are some of the articles/book chapters I’ve read in the last few days (because grad school):
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Race and/as Technology; or, How to Do Things to Race”
Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology”
Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto”
Vivian Sobchack’s “The Virginity of Astronauts: Sex and the Science Fiction Film” (and a few other short chapters from the anthology Alien Zone, because I’m currently figuring out how I want to combine film theory with Ex Machina)

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