There are generally two selling points to a film; the talent attached and the story that will be told. The Girl on the Train, adapted from the best selling novel, deals with a frequently depressed Rachel (Emily Blunt), coming from work on the train, seeing something she shouldn’t have and waking up the next day, hungover with no memory and unknown bruises. With a woman (Haley Bennett) that Rachel “knows” missing, Rachel gets involved in the case and potentially puts herself in harm’s way.
Story is fantastic, but film is about visuals. The striking trailer uses a cryptic Kanye West song to blend the mystery and intrigue of the missing persons case. So let’s examine the director and the cinematographer, two key people whose creative collaboration helped bring this film to life.
Tate Taylor’s filmography is rather small, but essential to understanding his approach; two period piece features (The Help & Get On Up) and one contemporary feature. His films don’t necessarily have striking imagery, but Taylor knows how to blend interpersonal conflict in a visually simple way. Get On Up, most notably, is flashier than his other films due to the larger- than-life subject matter: icon James Brown. Otherwise, he demonstrates that simple shots can help get the story across. So, save the more elaborate shots for when you have a moment that truly needs to convey extreme emotion. His films are well acted, but visually tamed.
Reuniting with The Help’s cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, Taylor tackled the true story of James Brown’s rise to fame. Watch a clip here, which showcases Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and “The Famous Flames” stealing the mic and the audience away from Little Richard. The scene showcases how much of a figure Brown is by very rarely letting the camera leave his face. Through camerawork, Taylor demonstrates that this important moment is not about the music, nor about “The Famous Flames.” It’s truly about Brown and the power he has. The musical scenes in Get on Up are the highlights of the film, but it’s built on the magnetism of Chadwick Boseman and his performance as the iconic singer.
Charlotte Bruus Christensen knows how to capture space perfectly. Far from the Madding Crowd and The Hunt particularly have fantastic scenes set in the woods, and she captures the emotions of the world around the characters with a subtle flair. She’s done amazing things with characters in vehicles, which is one of the most standardly confined spaces in cinema. Even dialogue shots are interesting enough that you can perfectly see character relationships without a lot of cutting. Plus, she has a few fistfights under her belt, which likely means that as The Girl on the Train heats up, the camera will remain on point. Shockingly enough, you can find her reel from 2008 here, where you can see several shots that could have been lifted directly from the trailer of Girl on the Train.
Working with director Thomas Vinterberg, Christensen helps capture the beauty and essence of Victorian England. Watch a clip from the film here, featuring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel. The clip helps to highlight the delicate balance that Christensen has between subject and environment. Without a word, Christensen captures the boldness of Bathsheba’s decision to lower herself into the waters and the impression she’s left on not only the spectators, but on Gabriel.
So what are we hoping for with The Girl on the Train? With Tate Taylor in the director’s chair and Charlotte Bruus Christensen behind the camera, we’re hoping that Christensen can create the visual flair that suits Taylor’s emotional tones. Christensen’s cooler color palette stands in contrast to the pastels of Taylor’s previous work. So, there might be a visually interesting blend of the less saturated world of New York City. For a film all about what is seen in a moment, Christensen is one of the best choices for this kind of material and based on the trailer, she delivers. Taylor is a great director of actors, most notably earning Octavia Spencer her Academy Award for The Help. With a heavy hitting cast at his disposal and a juicy thriller at his feet, we are hoping that The Girl on the Train can get out of Gone Girl’s shadow and stand on its own.