The Girl Off The Wagon – The Movie

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Title: The Girl On The Train

Rating: 3 Stars

I read the book last summer and rated it higher than the movie (the book was 4 stars).

First of all, let’s get the basics out of the way. The Girl on the Train is a well made movie.

The characters are strong. I think Emily Blunt did a fine job as Rachel. You watch Rachel as she deteriorates from what appears to be a commuting professional on her way to the city to a black-out drunk suspected of murder. Justin Theroux does fine work as her perfect ex-husband that is hiding a dark interior. I do wonder if they cast Lisa Kudrow just so they could make a Rachel joke, but no harm done.

There was a Hitchcockian feel as pressure and tension slowly built throughout the movie until the final scenes of explosive violence. There was an adult quality to this patient progression that was a treat to once again enjoy.

Without giving away too much, I also did enjoy the Gaslight nature of the plot.

All in all, an enjoyable experience with a well crafted movie.

However…

I’m torn whenever I read a movie based upon a book. On the one hand, if the movie deviates strongly from the book, I somehow feel cheated.

I can cite many examples of this. For some reason, one that really sticks in my craw is Absolute Power. I can probably talk about this because the movie is twenty years old, and if I’m spoiling it, well tough.

Absolute Power is a Daniel Baldacci novel. Baldacci is one of those crank-a-novel-out-a-year-rather-I-feel-inspired-or-not-type novelists, so I’ve long since stopped reading him.

However,  I really enjoyed Absolute Power. It had a great start. A cat burglar inadvertently witnesses the POTUS having an illicit sexual liaison, and then when things get out of hand, a Secret Service intervenes and murders the POTUS’s mistress.

There is this whole cat and mouse game where the Secret Service tries to hunt down and catch the burglar. The burglar is the protagonist that you’re rooting for.

Halfway through the novel, the cat burglar gets killed. He gets killed by a sniper, IIRC. In the action/thriller/suspense genre, this is truly a WTF moment. The hero dies halfway through the book?! It made for unexpected, exciting, and entertaining reading.

And then I hear that they’re making a movie of it. And I’m a little suspicious. And then I hear that Clint Eastwood is starring in it and directing it. And I become even more suspicious.

And sure enough, Clint Eastwood plays the cat burglar, and sure enough, not only is he not murdered, but of course he’s the hero that saves the day. An innovative action novel just got turned into yet another formula movie. I felt betrayed.

So, that’s one extreme. The other extreme is the movie that is slavishly devoted to the book. If you’ve read the book, basically what you end up watching is a pale version of the movie that was running through your head as you read the book.

That is what happened here.  Even though I read the novel six months ago or so, nothing happened in it that surprised me. As far as I could tell, it pretty slavishly followed the plot.

I could maybe understand doing that with, say, The Lord Of The Ring movies. There is such a fanatically dedicated fan base and the world in which the novels exist is so well described and so foreign to our own, that I can see the value in recreating that world.

This is a story set in the present time in a common setting. I got no visceral pleasure in seeing it portrayed as such. For those of us who read the book (of which we are legion), it would have been nice to have thrown in a surprise or two.

Regardless, I did enjoy the movie. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I actually hadn’t already read the book, so my lower rating reflects that.

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