The Good & The Bad: The Night Of

How often does it happen?  A show that starts well slowly falls away; the remainining episodes become a slog and the only reason for finishing is a sense of completion. 

Sometimes it takes a long time – over a number of seasons – before you stop forgiving its dodgy acting or silly plot twists.  Dexter, for example, was never perfect but it’s clever conceit and interesting main character kept you going right up until season 5, at which point the writers ran out of stories and the main character drifted far from the initial version.  By the final shot of the final series, it had become a tired parody of itself. 

The Night Of, another glossy HBO offering, doesn’t last long enough to suffer the same fate as Dexter, but there’s no doubt that it fails to deliver on the original promise.  As such, fresh from watching the final episodes, here’s my #hottake.

The Good

  • John Turturro – In a role originally meant for James Gandolfini (who would have been brilliant too), Turturro is perfect as John Stone.  As the lawyer who takes a chance on Riz Ahmed’s Naz Khan without realising the size of the task, Turturro’s Stone is street-wise, difficult, smart, complicated.  From Fading Gigolo to Barton Fink to (even) Transformers, Tuturro’s always been comforable playing characters outside the margins, so it’s no surprise he’s so good here.  The character ticks – the allergies, the problems with his feet, the penchant for street food – all seem believable in Turturro’s flaky skin, as opposed to affectations.  In a series where it’s difficult to warm to most characters, he’s the glue that holds the show together.

 

  • The First Episode – The first episode is terrific.  Really smartly written, well acted and, more importantly given what happens later, believeable.   It charts Naz’s journey from stolen taxi to ultimate arrest at a confident, but leisurely, pace.  All Naz’s decisions make sense within the context of the story and it sets up the remaining seven episodes expertly.  The focus on procedures Naz and the police officers are forced to follow after he’s initally picked up also  add a weight and realism to the situation – his terror counterbalanced with the officers’ casual indifference.

 

  • The Final Episode – It’s frustrating that it’s first and last episodes are so much better than those in-between.  Episode 7 nearly lost me entirely, so it was going to take quite a feat for the show to finish on a high.  As it happens, it nearly did.  Turturro gets a great closing speech to the jury – which he sells perfectly – and the strands of the story are tied-off pretty well.  Turturro has gone full circle (and acquired a cat), Naz gets off, the real murderer is identified and taken in and Chandra gets the sack. It’s a 90-minute episode which feels, finally, satisfying. 

 

  • The Suspects – I’ll be honest; by episode 7 I thought the creepy funeral director had committed the murder.  From him, to the nasty step-father, to the guy with a record of breaking and entering, the story worked hard towards the end to obscure the identity of the true killer.  The final reveal did not seem like a cheat though. 

 

  • Bill Camp – Bill Camp did a good job with the crumpled NYPD Detective, Dennis Box.  Despite the cliches, he brought some complexity and believablity to the character.

 

The Bad

  • The Prison – I’ll grant you that it’s probably hard to write about prison without it seeming cliched, but it’s not impossible.  Starred Up and Hunger, amongst other recent films, have managed it.  Sadly, The Night Off ticked of every cliche available:  drugs, gay sex, corrupt policeman, a prison kingpin (an under-worked Michael Kenneth Williams), murder.  Perhaps hamstrung by the number of cliches, the dialogue was at it’s weakest behind bars  too – it all seemed very by-the-numbers.

 

  • Naz’s character development – I was so confused by the transformation of Naz throughout the episodes.  In episode 1 he was portrayed as a good, clean-living kid and, although it was revealed later that he had a short temper and wasn’t adverse to petty crime, his character shift in prison seemed jarring.  I get that he was in a dangerous facility and did what he thought he needed to to survive, but he very quickly went from a scared guy in a frightening environment to a swaggering consiglieri to Williams’ kingpin.  For an innocent man, it didn’t take him much encouragment to beat people up, take hard drugs, help murder inmates or (hilariously) get ‘Sin’ and ‘Bad’ tattooed on his knuckles.  By the end, I didn’t care if he’d committed the murder or not.  He was an arsehole. 

 

  • The Kiss – Oh, the kiss!  This was the point I basically chucked it.  There was a brief mention in the previous episode that Chandra had split up with her boyfriend which, apparently, was enough to lay the groundwork for this.  Except it really wasn’t. A lawyer – in her first big case – suddenly falling for her client (a potential murderer) and having an illicit snog behind the court room didn’t make any sense.  At all. Why would she risk her job?  If she was so confident in his innocence, couldn’t she have waited? In their previous meetings, where there’d been zero sexual tension, when did she decide she’s fallen for him?  Obviously, it served to give Turturro his grandstanding moment, but they could have found another, less ridiculous way to do it.

 

  • Chandra smuggling drugs into prison – I’d obviously checked-out by this point, but this was possibly more ridiculous. 

Rating: 3/5.  A couple of great performances and some early promise can’t obscure an ultimately disappointing tale. 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Girl on the Train

Screenshot_20161010-140254.jpg

But…she’s a woman?

The Girl on the Train is this year’s Gone Girl – the wildly successful book turned into a pulpy thriller with a Hollywood cast.

Except, unlike Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is pretty rubbish.  Gone Girl was absolutely ridiculous, but it was well directed, well-acted and had enough exciting twists and turns to make you forget how utterly stupid it was.

Sadly for the newer film, it can only rely on its cast to disguise the wobbly plot.

On the positive side, Emily Blunt does her best as Rachel, an alcoholic who’s split with her husband and who thinks she sees something untoward in her old neighbourhood.

Blunt not only manages to handle the tricky skill of acting drunk, but she also (just about) manages to sell the various ill-advised decisions her character makes.

Hayley Bennett, as the missing Megan, and Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband also do their best with the script, while Alison Janney is criminally underused as the Police Detective investigating Megan’s disappearance.

Other positives?  The last 15 minutes are enjoyable enough as the threads finally come together and the ending is reasonably satisfying.

That’s about it though.  As I say, it’s not very good.

For starters – and most egregiously – it’s unbelievably slow for a pulpy thriller. I’ve not read the book, so this might be a flaw of the novel, but the film is choc-full of flashbacks which cripple the forward momentum of the story.  Some of these flashbacks do drive the plot forward (very slowly), but the sheer amount of them means every time you begin to engage with Rachel’s investigation of the mystery, you’re suddenly dragged out of it by another flashback.

The lack of propulsion, in turn, makes you less forgiving of the pulpiness of the plot and the interminable dialogue.

Like Gone Girl, the plot is pretty dumb.  Rachel keeps seeing a couple (Megan and her husband, Scott) outside their house as she passes on the train.  As it happens, they are both always outside at the exact moment the train passes (on the balcony kissing, or huddled beside a fire). Handily, they are also only two doors down from the house Rachel used to share with her husband (who now has another wife, Anna).

One day, Rachel spots Megan outside – again! – with someone who isn’t her husband.  Obsessed and suffering from alcoholism, she decides to leave the train and confront her.  Hours later Megan is missing and Rachel can’t remember what happened.

Even if you can ignore the fact Megan is outside more often than Bear Grylls, the film was littered with lazy plotting.  From Rachel routinely roaming the area where her ex-husband lives with impunity; to the shrink she manages to get an appointment with despite both being under suspicion by the Police; to the casual lack of interest the detectives seem to be drumming up for the entire case.

Gone Girl had similarly silly twists, but it was a faster, more immersive experience.  It was only after you’d left the cinema that you’d realise you’d been watching 120 minutes of stupidity.  With The Girl on the Train, I didn’t enjoy it enough to forgive it.

The plot plays with important issues such as motherhood, abortion and abuse, but it uses them in such a superficial way that it barely matters; the script is only interested in using them to advance the plot (I kept thinking of how much better films like Tyrannosaur discussed those themes as part of the story).

In an attempt to show it’s commitment to serious issues, the dialogue is portentous and faux-weighty, but it’s also unbelievable.

For example, there’s one section of dialogue which appears to be spoken in voiceover.  It’s university-grade pretentious but, hey, it’s a voiceover.  And then you realise someone’s actually speaking those words to another person.

No one in real life would speak the way the characters do in this.

That it’s fake wouldn’t be such a problem if the plot had been better though.  As it is, it’s as weak a thriller as I’ve seen this year.

Rating: 2/5