Review – The Girl on the Train; Denial; Godzilla Resurgence

The Girl on the Train; Denial; Godzilla Resurgence 

The Girl on the Train stars Emily Blunt as an alcoholic, very troubled young woman (no “girl” she) who suspects that someone is up to no good in a thriller that fancies itself part Rear Window, part Gone Girl –especially the use of changing (and not entirely reliable) perspectives– and part Any Lifetime Movie Ever Made.  Erin Cressida Wilson’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller shifts the locale from London to Westchester as Emily Blunt’s drink-laden divorcee Rachel habitually rides the train, gazing at her old home, now inhabited by ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and newborn daughter; she also becomes intrigued by their attractive young neighbors Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett), who not so coincidentally works for Tom and Anna as their sitter.  Each of these characters has issues, to say the least, from Rachel’s stalking of her ex-husband and guilt over past outbursts, to Megan’s inability to cope with a traumatic event from her past.  And when Rachel spies Megan in the arms of another man, it sets in motion a sequence of events that makes Peyton Place look like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The early sections of The Girl on the Train, anchored by strong, not-too-showy performances from Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett, do a fine job of keeping the viewer almost as off-balance as its protagonist, as the film deftly reveals the shortcomings, tangled relationships, and misconceptions that threaten to destroy this all-too-flawed set of characters.  However, (and it’s hard to avoid a train metaphor), everything goes off the rails in the last half-hour as seemingly intelligent characters act quite stupidly, and one can’t avoid that sinking sensation, especially after one’s suspicion about the guilty party is all too easily confirmed. It’s hard to provide a satisfying conclusion to any would-be new thriller, one just wishes the filmmakers would try a little harder.

Denial has Rachel Weisz (sporting a Queens accent by way of Frances McDormand’s Marge in Fargo) as Deborah Lipstadt, who waged a real-life court battle against so-called historian David Irving (Timothy Spall); specifically he sued her for libel when she labeled him a Holucaust denier, among other things.  The lawsuit, however, is to be played out in England, where the burden of proof is on the accused—namely Lipstadt and her team must not only show that Irving has deliberately falsified facts, but must produce evidence that the Holocaust actually happened.

Even though Weisz’ Lipstadt is the center of the story (and it is indeed based on Lipstadt’s book History on Trial), it’s the workings of her legal team that command the viewer’s attention. Led by solicitor Anthony Julius (a very good Andrew Scott) and barrister Richard Rampton (an excellent Tom Wilkinson), these professionals are very thorough in their search for anything that would strengthen their case, from scouring the remains of Auschwitz, through their exhaustive examinations of Irving’s writings (to show intentional fabrication).  One thing the team will not do—much to Lipstadt’s chagrin, is call any survivors to testify—nor do they wish to put Lipstadt herself on the stand.  As David Hare’s intelligent, well-developed screenplay makes clear, the “Denial” is not just Irving’s but also in whether or not Lipstadt willingly accepts being denied the use of her voice and that of the survivors–in order to stand a better chance of winning their case.  The results might be known to those who followed the trial—but then again they may not; suffice it to say, the well-acted, absorbing and occasionally moving Denial does allow the victims to be heard, even though not a word from them may be uttered in court.

Shin Godzilla (or Godzilla Resurgence) brings the “big guy” back to Tokyo for a new round of mass destruction.  This time (for the “first” time, as this incarnation is an origin tale set in modern Japan), the creature evolves from a huge crawling monster into the Godzilla we all know and flee from. This latest Godzilla is far more entertaining than the recent American version. There is very little in the way of heart-tugging or callow heroics; instead there are fast-paced scenes of politicians and scientists trying to figure out what to do with Godzilla (he has a pretty hard protective outer shell, and darn it if he isn’t a bit radioactive)—when they’re not busy trying to pass the buck or admit their impotence. Shin Godzilla/Godzilla Resurgence has something to say about bureaucracy, survival, courage, as well as the unwanted costs of technological advances, but mostly it wants to entertain with explosions, carnage, and a fairly hideous looking incarnation of Godzilla.  If it appears at your neighborhood bijou under either title, no need to run from it, as you might find it to be one of the more entertaining films currently playing.