Story Analysis: The Girl on the Train

First, the novel is exceptional. If you haven't read it, go read it! Yes, it rightfully deserves all the attention and accolades it is receiving. 

Watched the film and I like it, but I like the novel more. 

While I'm doing a story analysis of the film, it should be noted that adaptation is extremely difficult. You have to basically take only the main part and then throw out the rest. 

I wanted to like the movie more but I think two things prevented it from reaching the same level as the novel:

  1. Multiple voice-over
  2. Know the villain too early

If you have read the novel, then you know that it has multiple POVs and so I understand the desire to respect the original work by having multiple POVs. But, it ended up feeling very stilted because the movie, unlike the novel, doesn't carry out the multiple POVs throughout the film. It is used only in the set-up and then we're back to one POV (from the main character). 

The Affair has multiple POVs and it works because the TV medium has a lot more time than film. One of the appeals of The Affair is that the different perspectives make you question reality as you're not really sure what happened as people disagree on the events and there is no authoritative voice to help the audience discern who to believe. 

For film, I find it difficult to like the characters when we’re introduce to one of them and then we switch again and again. 

Image of when Megan Hipwell discovers her baby from  Girl on the Train

Image of when Megan Hipwell discovers her baby from Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is Rachel Watson's (played by Emily Blunt) story. But, Megan Hipwell's (Haley Bennett) story threatens to undermine Rachel's because her story is equally compelling, especially the scene of her accidentally drowning her baby when she fell asleep. Megan's way of life and treatment of the people around her makes me want to learn more about her. 

Also, because of Rachel and Megan, Anna’s (Rebecca Ferguson) POV becomes trivial since it isn't as compelling as these two characters. Anna had an affair with Rachel's husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and is now married to him. Anna dislikes and distrusts Rachel. While we understand her distrust, her POV is non-essential in the film. In the novel, it's compelling because we get to revisit Anna's POV and learn more about her. We get none of that in the film. 

In this case, I think the multiple POVs actually worked against them. 

The other problem though is that the film revealed the villain too early. 

Again, I understand the desire for fidelity to the original but we also have to remember that different media have different requirements. 

When Anna discovers Megan’s phone and hears her voice, we suspect that Tom is the killer. Anna doesn't do anything and then Rachel appears. This would have been the time to have Anna’s POV for why she’s staying with someone she should be suspecting but we don't get to see it. Instead, Tom shows up and Anna confirms to him that she discovered Megan's phone. 

To me, it would have been great if Anna could have made us believe that somebody other than Tom is the killer and so it would be much more shocking and surprising when we find out that he's the killer. The novel does this very well where we're constantly getting new information and changing our suspicion of who the real killer is. 

In the film, we didn't get it as much. 

Despite these shortcomings in the story, I still like the movie and would still recommend it for people to watch, especially if they have not read the novel (although they really should). 

LESSON: If you’re going to have multiple POVs, make sure they’re all compelling and we see them more than once.

Story Analysis: The Magnificent Seven

I haven't seen the original 1960 version, but I have seen the 1954 Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Akira Kurosawa's version is considered a classic for very good reasons. It's an exceptional film. 

For the new remake, I'm already a fan of the casting: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-Hun, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Peter Sarsgaard. Furthermore, the film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, a director I'm also a huge fan of. 

Given everyone involved, I have no doubt the film will make a lot of money and be a major success. My analysis isn’t on whether or not I like the movie because I did, but rather where the story could’ve been improved upon.

Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday

Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday

After watching the film, almost everything worked in terms of story except for one thing — Chris Pratt’s character, Joshua Faraday. 

We learn early in the film that Joshua Faraday is a gambler who's very good with his guns. We also learn that he’s street smart by the way he handles himself when two brothers get a drop on him. He kills one of the brothers and tells the other one to run away. From that, we infer that he doesn't kill unless it's necessary. So far, so good. 

Later, Denzel Washingon's character, Sam Chisholm, recruits Joshua by paying for his horse. Josuha is obligated to join Sam in his mission to save the town against an army of bad people as a way of paying back debt. Again, so far, so good. 

Sam quickly recruits the rest of the Magnificent Seven:

  1. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is Sam’s good friend and “noble”, willing to befriend blacks and Asians when his Caucasian peers are too ignorant to consider them their equals.
  2. Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-Hun) is Goodnight's good friend and we get the sense that he’s been fighting against injustice all his life until he befriended Goodnight.
  3. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a skilled tracker who is more shamanistic now. He joins the team because he feels that it is the right thing to do. 
  4. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who befriends Sam and is therefore obligated to join him in his mission. 
  5. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who joins simply because it seems fun and crazy. 

Later, we get hints from the conversation between Goodnight and Sam that Sam didn't take on this mission for a noble cause, but rather for revenge.

So far, so good. We understand everyone's motivation for joining this crazy mission. 

However, towards the end of the film, Joshua's character becomes an enigma. 

Even though Sam explicitly tells him that Joshua is free to leave as he has already paid back his debt, Joshua decides to sacrifice himself and that's where the story lost me. 

Why did Joshua sacrifice himself? We get no indication whatsoever. Family? Nothing. Religion? Nope. Honor? His character didn't exactly give off that vibe. So, why did he sacrifice himself? 

If only we got to know Joshua a little better, then his sacrifice would have been that much more impactful. Instead, I was wondering why in the world did he do that? 

Now, Chris Pratt is an extremely likable actor and not the main protagonist in the film and so maybe the writers and director thought that they showed enough for people to understand. I didn't and maybe it's just me. 

LESSON: The more we know about the character’s motivation, the more invested we are in them.

Writing the superhero show

Yesterday, I did a bit of story analysis between MacGyver and Scorpion

Thinking about it a little more, I think the two shows are basically about "superheroes" in that it is their intelligence that is their "super powers". 

In our current knowledge economy where knowledge is power, raw intelligence - such as Walter O' Brien's 197 IQ or MacGyver's encyclopedic know-how - is essentially portrayed as a super power. The writers on Scorpion know this and illustrate it by having an episode where the team dressed up as superheroes. 

Image from  Scorpion  Season 2 Episode 5: "Super Fun Guys" written by Adam Higgs and Nick Santora

Image from Scorpion Season 2 Episode 5: "Super Fun Guys" written by Adam Higgs and Nick Santora

If we accept that both shows are superheroes show, then it furthers cement the reason why Scorpion is currently a better written show.

Superheroes must have a weakness. It's a cardinal rule because without a weakness, they're kind of boring. Imagine Batman or Superman without any weaknesses. Why would you care? 

In Scorpion, Walter is clearly attracted to Paige, a beautiful waitress of average intelligence who joins the team to better explain "genius talk" to plain speech. He is attracted to her but because of his weakness, he is unable to express his feelings for her. The romantic tension between them is part of the genre (i.e. Lois Lane and Superman, Selina Kyle and Batman, etc). 

While Walter might be the smartest person in the room, he's an idiot when it comes to affairs of the heart. Superman might be the most powerful being in the world, but he took a very, very long time (52 years) to confess to Lois Lane his secret identity. 

MacGyver is portrayed as an extremely intelligent person who can do almost anything. He's able to have a girlfriend, Nikki. He's able to have a normal roommate, Wilt. 

He doesn't exhibit any weaknesses for us to care or relate to. Again, I hope they fix this soon as I'm worried this MacGyver reboot will be less than two seasons. 

LESSON: Give the main character a weakness - the more relatable, the better.

Screenwriting Clichés To Avoid

Trying to finish up my script and this infographic by the New York International Latino Film Festival is so right on the money. 

I check out the infographic from time to time to remind me of the stereotypical clichés and whether or not I want to incorporate them into my scripts.