The Girl On The Train (2016) – Movie Review
The Girl on the Train
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux & Luke Evans
Music: Danny Elfman
Release Date: October 5th 2016
Every week, the rights to dozens of books and novels are bought by Hollywood in the hopes of turning them into massive big-screen hits. Whenever there’s a ‘Harry Potter‘ or ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ style success, studios will put films like ‘The Chronicles of Naria: The Lion‘, ‘Eragon‘, ‘Percy Jackson & The Olympians‘, ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events‘ and more into production to ride that wave. Right now in terms of paperback fiction, adult crime-thrillers are in and that peaked with the huge success of ‘Gone Girl‘ with the book written by Gillian Flynn with the Oscar nominated film adaptation directed by David Fincher.
After that, the next big mystery book that was topping the bestsellers lists was “The Girl on the Train” written by Paula Hawkins. In fact, Dreamworks acquired the movie rights to the novel over a year before the book even hit store shelves. However, despite it being considered a very British Book by its biggest fans, production moved to the United States…despite casting the British Emily Blunt in the lead. But director Tate Taylor has recently done well adapting other people’s stories with ‘The Help‘ and ‘Get On Up‘ and there’s great talent in front of the camera as well. Is ‘The Girl on the Train‘ a strong adaptation for fans or is this a story that the movie’s lead should have completely ignored and gone about the rest of her day?
Rachel Watson (Blunt) takes the train every day to and from New York. After recently being divorced and struggling with alcoholism, she is losing direction in life and starts to fantasise about the lives of other people; specifically a seemingly perfect couple, Scott (Evans) and Megan (Bennett) living in a perfect house that she passes every day on the train. However, one day she sees Megan kissing another man on the balcony only for Megan to go missing shortly afterwards. Rachel commits herself to solving the mystery, but she’s more personally involved then even she knows and she will have to face her own inner demons in order to find out the truth.
While there are some positives to ‘The Girl on the Train‘, there’s a lot that needs to be said in how the movie bends over backwards just to get the narrative going and issues that tend to hinder film adaptations. As someone who has not read the book (though knows someone who loves the book who consulted on this review), it’s easy to assume that many of these issues are not present in the source material but that does not justify them not being resolved or addressed in this adaptation. First off, the right off the bat, the movie paints Rachel Watson as a drunken, unreliable narrator. She has trouble remembering things when she has alcohol-induced black-outs which probably works well to create intrigue when the book puts you in the head-space of the main character, but when you’re a spectator to the events with a movie it means that you spend an hour with an unreliable character until things start getting confirmed in the 3rd act. It feels like ‘The Girl on the Train’ is lacking in direction, like a drunk person staggering about after a rough night out.
And that’s not even getting into the fact that Rachel commuting on the train and seeing a couple’s house every day makes a lot more sense in the U.K. where there’s much more of a “train culture” then there is in the States. Also, how on earth does Rachel afford to live in her apartment, drink expensive spirits constantly and buy DAILY RETURN tickets on this train if she’s unemployed? That’s a question that bugged me from start to finish and even though there are other mysteries to solve along the way that particular one seemed the most allusive.
But one of the narrative devices of the book that the film also employs is splitting the movie into different segments based on the characters that we’re following. Some of the movie takes place from Rachel’s perspective, her ex-husband’s new partner Anna and Megan, the seemingly perfect woman who Rachel sees from the train every day. Once again, a device that probably works really well for a book but much like the adaptations of ‘The Hunger Games‘ where the film removes a lot of the essential inner-monologues, we’re left with characters who feel very bland. If we could look inside their heads like we could with a book, we might find them more compelling and emphasise with them more. But in a much more passive medium, it doesn’t seem to translate. We get harrowing flashbacks detailing the trauma that some of these characters have been through, but when you don’t care about the characters in the first place then it just comes across like attempts to shock.
And since the movie is primarily built on a mystery, you ultimately either have to care about the mystery being solved (which doesn’t work because the movie is very upfront about Rachel’s memory of events being distorted) or care about the people involved in the mystery. Neither seem to work out, especially when the third act comes along with numerous game-changing twists coming one after the other and it just feels like the movie is wearing out its welcome and relying too much on a rather sexist trope (but not in the way you’d expect). The three leads don’t interact with each other much, also Rachel can be quite an unlikeable character and while a late-in-the-game twist helps to justify a lot of those actions it feels like a twist that should have been set up a lot better to make those early actions of hers less reprehensible.
Now, there are merits to ‘The Girl on the Train‘ and that mostly comes from the performances. From a script-perspective, Rachel and Anna are rather bland and forgettable characters but thanks to very strong performances from Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson they feel real and world-weary. Emily Blunt in particular is a captivating screen-presense displaying incredibly intense emotions as her world-view starts to completely crumble around her. Even if the idea of a drunken woman who considers herself past her prime and living vicariously through a perfect couple she idolises from her morning commute every day who has her reality shattered when he sees the couple’s life disrupted can come across as a bit silly on the screen, the only reason it even begins to work in ‘The Girl on the Train‘ movie is because Emily Blunt MAKES you believe it.
There are also some effective standalone scenes, particularly the flashbacks which may feel emotionally hallow but do tackle intense/sensitive subjects very tastefully and effectively in the moment. And yeah, when the mystery comes full circle at the end you can appreciate the plot as a whole and can see how the book became as popular as it did, but you might be wondering why it had to take 112 minutes to get to that conclusion. The movie feels around 150 minutes indicating significant pacing issues as well which are apparent when you take a look at how the film transitions from the different perspectives as well as different moments in time as the movie is not entirely linear.
The movie also feels very TV-movie which is slightly lessened by the Hollywood talent as well as the well-done drone footage showcasing Rachel’s daily commute, but the film looks significantly cheaper than the $45M would suggest. The sets and the numerous locations Rachel and the other characters visit don’t feel lived-in and many of the homes feel startlingly empty, the drunken flashbacks are textbook “stumbling, out-of-focus” and the colour palette starts off with a combination of light-grey and dark-green and never moves beyond it. ‘The Girl on the Train‘ is not an ugly or poorly put together movie, but it really doesn’t feel like it deserves the big-screen treatment. Fincher breathed so much life into ‘Gone Girl‘ visually but ‘The Girl on the Train‘ doesn’t get nearly the same treatment, though special mention does have to go to Danny Elfman who gives us an unconventional score filled with atmosphere.
‘The Girl on the Train‘ feels like a well-acted and well-cast Lifetime TV Movie. It has a couple of effective moments and Emily Blunt is doing a great job carrying the lacklustre narrative but there simply isn’t enough to the story or these characters to see audiences through the nearly 2-hour mystery. Maybe a British setting could have given it a more unique visual identity instead of the grey colour-palette we’re saddled with but many of the issues stem from the script as well as how the protagonists are characterised. Some books are better suited to film adaptations than others and ‘The Girl on the Train‘ feels like a great advert for Paula Hawkins’ novel…in that it makes you want to read it to see what all the hype was all about to warrant a film with talent of this calibre.
I give ‘The Girl on the Train‘ 2 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 4th Jan 17