Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016 by Jack Giroux
Paula Hawkins‘ The Girl on the Train is an incredibly entertaining and bleak page-turner. The deeply troubled characters are what make the novel exciting. The more pages turned, the more the characters reveal themselves, and usually in some pretty troubling, unnerving, or darkly enjoyable ways. Hawkins’ novel is arguably a better drama than it is a thriller, and the same could be said of Tate Taylor‘s adaptation. The Help director’s film is a sometimes-above-average thriller that thrives mostly on its performances.
Below, read our The Girl on the Train spoiler review.
As she says in her narration, Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic, isn’t the woman she used to be. The woman Rachel used to be was married to Tom (Justin Theroux), and they shared a house together she now passes every day on the train to the city, where she goes to pretend she’s still working to keep her roommate (Laura Prepon) somewhat happy. Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) live a few houses down from Rachel’s old home, and Rachel sees them often from her view on the train. In Rachel’s mind, they are the perfect couple. She spends a lot of time imagining their lives, rather than working on her own.
One day Rachel sees Megan kissing another man, her therapist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez). The image of Megan with another man sends Rachel into a drunken rage. She feels betrayed. That night, she drunkenly gets off at the stop by her old neighborhood to confront Megan. What exactly happened after that, though, Rachel doesn’t know. The next day she wakes up hungover, bruised and covered in blood. She only remembers flashes of images from the night before, and she’s scared of what she might’ve done.
Erin Cressida Wilson‘s script remains structurally faithful to Hawkins’ novel, but some the character nuances from the book aren’t in this two-hour movie. There is more to Tom and Rachel’s relationship in the novel that makes their relationship more believable, making the violence and deceit in the story more visceral and nasty, less artificial than it can be here. You could see what Tom once meant to Rachel and the control Tom could have over Rachel, but not so much here. Of course, not every character detail from the book can make it into a film adaptation, but sometimes characters are painted too broadly.
Tom’s new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is a character that goes slightly underused in the adaptation. It’s the least showy role, but there’s one scene where she tells Tom she misses the life of a mistress that hints there’s more to her than what we’re seeing. It’s a desire of hers that goes undiscussed, and it leaves you wanting more, because the two other women she’s bound to, Rachel and Megan, are more fully realized characters. The areas where Anna is lacking is no fault of Ferguson’s, who often says a lot with a little, like when Rachel tells Tom how guilty he used to make her feel, and Ferguson’s reaction says Anna knows what Rachel means.
Rachel is the star of this ensemble story. That’s a good thing, too, because Emily Blunt is excellent as the unreliable narrator. The actress doesn’t soften any of Rachel’s flaws. Sometimes, like in the added bathroom sequence, she plays them up, showing how out of control the character is, how much pain she’s in, and the anger she has inside her. During this scene, Taylor’s work shines best as a director. He doesn’t cut away, letting the shots run a little long as the camera closes in Blunt’s face as Rachel lets off some steam. Taylor and his cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (The Hunt) do a lot of close-ups, maybe too many, but that one puts your face right in Rachel’s pain and misery, and it’s impossible to look away.
Weirdly, the violence isn’t as unsettling that sequence. That’s a bit odd, considering what occurs in the film, but Taylor exhibits more control and style with the drama than the more conventional thriller scenes. Neither the tunnel sequence nor Megan’s murder achieve the desired, horrifying effect, although Taylor wisely relies on sound when Tom is killing Megan with the rock. These two pivotal sequences occur so fast, without a real suspenseful buildup. Sometimes when the director should be twisting the knife the most, he relents. These scenes are often shot too matter-of-factly — which isn’t the case for the dramatic scenes, where Taylor uses shadows, the same compositions, and similar blocking to tie Megan, Rachel, and Anna together, often during moments of clarity or shock.
A little too soon into The Girl on the Train, the big secret becomes too visible. When Scott tells Rachel Megan was pregnant, and the child wasn’t his or her shrink’s, it’s obvious it’s the only other prominent male character in this story killed her. Scott reveals this information about ten minutes before the film shows Tom is the villain. Too quickly you can jump ahead of the movie and fill in the blanks before everything gets revealed, and Tom sits down Anna and Rachel to explain why he did it, which is a part of the book that translates surprisingly well to film. Maybe because it’s faster and messier in the movie, the finale here has a little more punch to it than it did in the book.
With that third act and the twist, the strings behind it are visible. The Girl on the Train is a story with clear conveniences and some obvious red herrings, but there’s some fun to be had with its predictability. Sometimes the plot goes through the motions, but actors like Emily Blunt or Allison Janney, playing an invented character for the film, help keep The Girl on the Train from feeling like it’s just checking boxes. Blunt grounds the thriller, while Janney brings much-needed humor to it.
The film doesn’t have the novel’s dark sense of humor, but Janney scores some laughs. In other hands, this detective could’ve been a nothing role, but Janney brings a sharpness and intelligence to the role. When Anna says Rachel has been hanging around at Scott’s house, her response — “Yeah, I know” — is said with a subtle, snarky undertone of, “Yes, I do my job.” Across the board, The Girl on the Train is a well-cast movie, down to the actor cast as the mysterious red-haired man.
Sometimes Taylor and Wilson capture the spirit of the book, at times they don’t, but when they do it’s when the film is at its most entertaining and the characters are at their most vulnerable and brutally honest. The Girl on the Train is a decent adaptation that benefits greatly from its performances, especially Emily Blunt as Rachel. When Taylor’s film runs into some trouble, the actress is typically there to save it, by delivering one of her most sorrowful performances to date.
/Film rating: 6.5 out of 10Cool Posts From Around the Web: