The Girl on the Train – Going Nowhere?
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Erin Cressida
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, and Rebecca Ferguson
A review by Nicole Bresner
From the success of the book and the intriguing trailer, I was quite excited to see The Girl on the Train, especially as part of my October scary movie watching. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins, and directed by Tate Taylor, the film stars Emily Blunt as Rachel, an emotionally troubled alcoholic prone to blackouts, and chronicles the events that lead to her involvement in a murder mystery for which she appears to be culpable.
A good portion of the film’s opening shows Rachel travelling back and forth on a train, during which she passes the home of a couple she imagines to have the perfect life and love. Her short period of voyeurism each day (the couple seems to regularly make out on their balcony in broad daylight) leads to fantasizing about the life of the pair, and is the flip side of the life Rachel believes she has lost due to divorce and infidelity. To add to the drama, Rachel’s former husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby, live a couple houses down from the mystery couple, and are also part of Rachel’s daily peeping. The situation is depressing at best, until the day Rachel sees something she shouldn’t, and confronts the mystery woman (Haley Bennett) in a drunken stupor. When the woman (who Rachel eventually learns is named Megan) goes missing, Rachel struggles to remember what happened, and if she is somehow responsible.
The start of The Girl on the Train is slow, and while Rachel’s alcoholism and broken emotional state are firmly established, the scenes of her views going back and forth from the train could have been portrayed in a much more interesting manner. It’s purely Hitchcock-ian and gave the director so many options as to how to present these scenes, yet there are no dramatic angles, shots, filters, or sound/music to elevate the images or distinguish them from the more mundane exposition in the story. It was a sadly missed opportunity to add a unique vision to the film. Also, while the train trips serve to establish the character of Rachel and her past through a series of flashbacks, the scenes still dragged, and rather than being drawn in, I found myself getting bored.
The rest of the film is equally lackluster in the acting and flow of events. There are plot twists and Rachel’s apparent innocence or guilt constantly fluctuates, yet none of this seemed to grab me. I felt it could have if executed with a greater sense of style and nuance. Another missed opportunity was the highly underused talent of Allison Janney who makes a few appearances as a cop investigating Megan’s disappearance. Janney barely has any lines, doesn’t play a hardass killer-hunter or a even champion of Rachel as the underdog. She doesn’t seem to serve much purpose at all, actually, other than to show there are cops working the case. I have a fondness for Ms. Janney as an actress, and to not use her to full capacity in the movie was highly disappointing.
As the action picks up and the mystery deepens, The Girl on the Train becomes slightly more engaging, but ultimately I was not invested in any of the characters and just wasn’t feeling the angst and intensity that I suspect the film intended to convey. The story itself gives a lot to work with, enough that I am now interested in reading the book. The movie, however, was missing a sense of vision and made no effort to rise above cliches and two-dimensional characters. I wanted to like it and I tried. It’s not a disaster, but it leaves the viewer without any lasting impression and certainly is not as thrilling, or as remotely scary, as I had hoped when I first saw the trailer.
Overall, I would not recommend seeing The Girl on the Train. There is nothing new, compelling, or interesting about it, aside from a possibly good story that is buried in uninspired cinematography, acting, and direction. Again, it’s not an abysmal failure, but so unremarkable that any number of films would make better choices if you want to spend your time and money on a good thriller.