Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson
On her daily commute, heartbroken alcoholic Rachel (Blunt) catches glimpses of a seemingly perfect couple, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Bennett). However, one day she witnesses something shocking in the backyard of the couple’s home. After Megan is missing and feared dead, Rachel tries to piece together her fractured memories of the night Megan went missing in the fear that she may be connected to the events that lead to Megan’s disappearance.
Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel was phenomenally successful, and so of course a film adaptation was inevitably going to happen sooner rather than later. Well, I have not read the book, so do not care about certain characters being apparently too glamorous or a location change, but despite the book having apparently “shocked the world” (an admittedly very bold statement), the film is not in any way shocking or thrilling, or indeed very good.
I of course cannot comment on whether the novel is any good or not, but with any art form there is certainly not a positive correlation between financial success and quality, but the film fails on so many levels that all involved have failed miserably if indeed the book was as good as I have heard. They are of course two different mediums, and The Girl on the Train is told from various perspectives and hops backwards and forwards in time, which may work very well on the page, but in the hands of screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson it really struggles to come across effectively on the screen. Perhaps it was rushed so to be released while the hype was still there or is simply a novel that could be classed as ‘unfilmable’, but the film adaptation of The Girl on the Train is at best a competent TV drama.
Now, do not get me wrong; The Girl on the Train is not by any means a terrible film, but just isn’t a very good one. It is certainly never boring and is undoubtedly watchable enough (thanks mainly to the performances), but there is never any intrigue or thrills, or indeed any element of mystery as the one key ‘twist’ is glaringly obvious from a very early stage, though the sillier plot elements do produce some unintentional laughter. It does feel that from the actual story and also the themes it potentially encompasses that this could have been a good film that is both emotionally involving and genuinely thrilling (albeit slightly silly), so maybe it was just rushed too much by the Hollywood machine.
What is even worse is that The Girl on the Train does not even belong on the big screen. Admittedly the predominant use of intense close-ups and the grey cinematography are very effective, but overall the film does feel like a Sunday night two hour TV drama that happens to have a big name cast; there is nothing in terms of either its visuals or storytelling that justify it being seen on the big screen.
Indeed, one of the visual approaches of director Tate Taylor is to often give the viewer a jumpy slow-motion shot. This just emphasises the laziness of all involved of the making of the film as, as they basically patronisingly shout to the audience “THIS BIT IS IMPORTANT!” Well, when used as often as they are in The Girl on the Train they get very tedious very quickly.
The main saving grace of The Girl on the Train is the performances from the big name cast, in particular Emily Blunt as Rachel; Blunt completely embodies all the internal suffering that her character experiences with total and utter conviction, making the film far better or watchable than it deserves to be. Likewise Blunt’s performance alone means that the character of Rachel allows the film to examine some powerful, emotive and relatable themes of loss and heartbreak and what this can do to a person. Likewise Hayley Bennett is excellent as Megan, another very potentially interesting character with a tragic backstory.
Both Rachel and Megan are potentially very interesting and engaging characters, and the committed performances does make them that more interesting, it is just a shame they are let down by the shoddy script. Likewise Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux and Edgar Ramirez are all very good in what could have been very intriguing characters, but the script and narrative structure almost seem to go out of their way to prevent any intrigue or genuine mystery from being there. Indeed if it were not for the performances, The Girl on the Train would be a big steaming pile of nothing.
Inevitable comparisons will be made to Gone Girl (review) or Before I go to Sleep (review). Well, both of those had ultimately quite silly plots, but Gone Girl had enough self-awareness to be an unashamedly trashy and highly enjoyable guilty pleasure, while Before I go to Sleep not only had great performances, but enough visual panache to be an enjoyable romp. Unfortunately The Girl on the Train takes itself way too seriously, and so in turn is not that much fun to watch (despite the occasional unintentional laughter), especially the ending, which is not only predictable but laughably silly in its presentation. What is most annoying is that not only is it a waste of some great performances, but there is enough there to suggest that this could have actually been a very good film with a bit more focus and effort, so that makes The Girl on the Train very disappointing indeed, and I haven’t even read the book!
A supposed thriller very much lacking in any genuine thrills; the great performances just about make The Girl on the Train a watchable yet vacuous yarn, but the shoddy plotting and overall televisual feel only emphasise the not only lazy, but complacent approach of Hollywood these days as there is enough to suggest that it actually should have been far better than this.