Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans Director: Tate Taylor Run Time: 112 min
The Girl on the Train is the latest psychological thriller to be adapted from a best-selling novel. Like Gone Girl before it the story deals with a missing wife, abusive husbands, and the dark secrets of suburban life. While The Girl On The Train‘s source material might have put a fresh spin on the general details, is that enough to set this film apart?
Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a recently divorced alcoholic whose life has gone off the rails. Her heavy drinking has left her prone to blackouts and fits of rage. Every day on her journey in to the city her train stops at the same junction, behind a row of idyllic houses where she used to live. Rachel not only uses this time to spy on her ex-husband and his new family from the comfort of the train, but also forms an unhealthy obsession with a seemingly happy couple a few doors down. She dreams about their perfect life, going so far as to name them, and drawing images of them in her sketch book. They are everything she once had; everything she wishes she could have again.
Her dream world is shattered one morning however when she spies the woman, out on her balcony, with another man. Rachel feels angry and betrayed. She goes on an all night bender and considers confronting the woman. When she wakes up the next morning with blood on her hands to discover that the woman, Megan, has been reported missing, Rachel’s life is turned upside down. Unable to trust her own memories, but eager to help solve the mystery, she becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly unlikely events.
The story that unfolds is pulpy, convoluted, and melodramatic; more “soap opera” than social commentary. Unlike Gone Girl, which had some knowing fun with its numerous outlandish twists and contrivances, The Girl On The Train Director Tate Taylor plays it all completely straight faced. This works to a point, but some truly ridiculous moments can’t help but break the tension and elicit unwanted laughs. Taylor lacks the stylistic flair of David Fincher. The films ultimate message of empowerment, although admirable is fairly ham-fisted in its delivery.
The character of Rachel is an interesting one on paper. Her behavior is erratic, and her actions and motivations are questionable at best. Her alcoholism has left her wildly unhinged and it’s not entirely clear if we the audience are supposed to root for her. The film kind of fumbles in this regard though, making her untrustworthy to the point that we have no real way to connect with her or to become invested in the story. One can’t help but assume it worked better in the book.
Emily Blunt commits fully to the role, but many of her scenes come across as melodramatic and her performance frequently veers towards overacting. Part of the problem here is the script, with its clunky over-expository dialogue. Many of the actors struggle to sell its contrivances. Haley Bennett in particular, who plays Megan, is saddled with some particularly over-the-top monologues. Justin Theroux, who has proven himself an extremely capable dramatic actor on HBO’s The Leftovers, does the best with what he’s given as Rachel’s ex-husband. Despite being underused early on, he does manage to shine in a few key scenes, while also having to deliver the most cringe worthy, on-the-nose line of dialogue in the whole movie.
As with Gone Girl the films use of non-linear storytelling, dream sequences, and flashbacks nicely compliments the fragile state of mind of its central character. There is fun to be had in going along for the ride, and audiences will likely enjoy the twists and turns. Ultimately however this film has little to offer beyond its soapy thrills. While it may be a decent enough effort in its own right, comparisons are inevitable, and The Girl on the Train just never hits the heights of its predecessor.