The Girl on the Train Review
THE TIES THAT BEHIND US
Back on February 2015, the literary world was introduced to The Girl on the Train. This debut novel by author Paula Hawkins, was presented as a psychological thriller of which many called it the next Gone Girl (a similar novel written by Gillian Flynn). The success of The Girl on the Train was well-met, receiving praise for Hawkins’s work, securing a #1 position on The New York Fiction Best Sellers list for 13 consecutive weeks. With the book selling millions of copies, it was basically inevitable that a film adaptation was soon to be developed, lockdown by Universal Pictures and DreamWorks. Now, the film is read to debut as director Tate Taylor presents the cinematic version of The Girl on the Train. Does the movie make the jump from page to screen or does its shrouded psychological mystery get bogged down in superfluous theatrics?
Every day, twice a day, Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) rides on a commuter train (sitting in the exact same train car and the same position) that passes by her old home, watching the life she once had now enjoyed by others, with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) marrying her ex-husband, Tim (Justin Theroux), and given a newborn child he’s always desired. Because of this, Rachel has become a raging alcoholic to numb her pain and obsessed with trying interfere in Tim’s new life. However, Rachel’s gaze now falls to Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), the beautiful young wife to Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans), who lives down the street from Tom’s house (Rachel’s old house). Unfortunately, Megan’s life is far from perfect, feeling bored and trapped in loveless relationship and is eager to lose her nanny job to Anna’s baby, looking for something more purposeful in her life. For Rachel, these glimpses (through the speeding train’s window) into their daily lives provides enough daydreaming possibilities to full her day, in-between her alcohol binges. Although, that all changes when Megan mysteriously disappears, causing many questions to arise. Now, with everyone trying to get to the bottom of what real happened, the lives of Rachel, Anna, and Megan are intertwined, uncovering the truth behind it all to its deadly revelations.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Working at a bookstore, I’ve seen the popularity grow in The Girl on the Train, with many customers coming in and buying Hawkin’s novel. As I stated above, the book has indeed becoming a best-selling novel, with a steady flow in its selling records (at least in my store anyway). I was meaning to pick up and read it, but (unfortunately) I never got around to reading it. So, in this review of the movie version, I can’t compare to book to film in a side by side comparison.
While the book was selling constantly, I remember seeing the trailers for The Girl on the Train a lot at my local movie theater (in similar way that I kept seeing the trailers for The Accountant). I meaning…hearing the trailer song, a combination of Blitz / Berlin’s “Surfboard Fire” and the lyrics to Kanye West’s Heartless, sounds epic and gets definitely interested in seeing the movie (every time I see it). My review is a bit late from when The Girl on the Train debuted in theaters (October 7th, 2016) as it came out during when Hurricane Matthew skimmed by Florida, which is where I live. In addition, I read mixed reviews about this movie, so I put seeing the film off in favor of seeing other ones. Now, that I have the time, I had a chance to see it. Unfortunately, those reviews I’ve read jive with my thoughts as The Girl on the Train just isn’t there, peddling the standard psychological thriller feature that ultimately underperforms (sometimes) due to its direction.
Bring this feature to life on the big screen is director Tate Taylor, who has directed such movies like The Help, Winter’s Bone, and Get on Up. While I didn’t get the chance to read the book, Taylor seems to paint the feature with a psychological odyssey, following Rachel (as well as Anna and Megan) in a very dark tale and how each one is connected to each other. There’s really no happiness or joy in this as Taylor projects the film’s world with drab and dreariness, something that’s befitting to these types of movies. In addition, the film’s message, which I assume is the message in Hawkin’s novel, is about fighting your inner personal demons, seeing each of three women trying to overcome their personal dilemmas, which Taylor does a good job at establish from the get-go.
The main problem with the film is in its screenplay, which is penned by Erin Cressida Wilson. The first act, which naturally sets up the female trio characters of Rachel, Megan, and Anna, is written in way that it comes off as mostly distant and emotionally cold, failing for viewers to grasp / latch to these characters (whether to sympathize, loathe, or hate) and that’s pretty much the whole movie…but more on that below. It also makes the story’s plot feel a bit convoluted, a way that might have worked its literary page (due to time constraint and deeper insight into the character, but it just makes the narrative overtly complex that it needs to be. In addition, the main plot of the story takes a bit to get going (due to the intercutting introductions of the three female leads), which ultimately causes events to unfold at a sluggish pace. Personally, I was almost falling asleep. I mean, I understand that these type of films don’t have quickness of a blockbuster film or of a breezy rom-com feature, but The Girl on the Train’s pacing has no sense of urgency nor enthralling elevation, making me feel (and probably a lot of viewers) bored with the movie. The narrative does snap back by the third act, when all the revelations begin to be revealed, but (at that point) it’s a bit “too little, too late”. Due to the nature of these type of mystery / suspense thrillers (i.e a whodunit thriller), the film utilizes the common “misdirection” tactic, placing suggested events and characters in front of you (the viewer) to make you believe that they are the one behind, which of course is false when curtain is finally pulled back and everything comes to light. These are common tricks to be used, but Taylor and Wilson make these misdirection twists fairly obvious and add much substance to the overall narrative and its shrouded mystery.
In addition, the ending (I felt) was bit lackluster. Yes, it’s a proper ending, but it’s not a complete / wholesome satisfying ending. Also, Taylor overindulges on a lot facial close-up shots, which does become a bit distracting (i.e. making the feature feel choppy), after a while, as well some of the flashback sequences (usually with the character of Megan in-focus) and some weird editing effects that ware out their welcome after the three or four times.
Also, just as the Hawkin’s novel was called “the next Gone Girl”, so too does the feature film bare unmistakable illusion to David Fincher’s 2014 film Gone Girl and I’m not just talking about the narrative. Yes, the two narratives do bare a similarity to each other (something akin to its genre), but the Taylor just seems to bank too much on that premise, using the “muted” color palette, short but brief acts of violence that are bit gory, and, like I said above, a lot character driven moments. Unfortunately, while they imitation is said to be the ultimate form of flattery, Taylor’s The Girl on the Train can’t quite live up to what Fincher did with Gone Girl.
One of the best things about The Girl on the Train is found in the character role that actress Emily Blunt as the weary and disorganized Rachel Watson. Blunt, who great at playing juicy roles in such films like her roles in The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods, and Sicario, goes bit “against the grain” in portraying a character who is not meant to be likeable in her role as Rachel. To its effect, Blunt pulls it off, delivering a very scene-steal character that definitely going to top performance in her film career (at least for now). Like any good actor knows how to do, Blunt interjects some emotional vulnerability to rendition of Rachel, which allows the character to be more well-rounded and not just run-of-the-mill and transparent broken woman persona. Some might argue that Blunt’s Rachel is too “mopey”, but she does turn a fine job in the role. The same goes for her story arc, which may come off as a bit cliché at times, but mostly has to do with than Wilson’s screenplay writing and, to a lesser effect, Hawkin’s narrative than with her acting ability.
The rest of the cast in The Girl on the Train are (collectively) a group very recognizable faces, but are, more or less, lifeless, come across as dull and distant and not as nearly well-rounded as Blunt’s Rachel. This includes Haley Bennett as Megan Hipwell (she’s definitely pretty to look at and this is her third movie in the year 2016), Luke Evans as Scott Hipwell (Megan’s concerned husband), Justin Theroux as Tom Watson (Rachel’s ex-husband), Rebecca Ferguson Anna Watson (Tom’s new wife), Allison Janney as Detective Riley, and Edgar Ramirez as Dr. Kamal Abdic (Megan’s therapist). This grouping of supporting players doesn’t bring their respective character to full cinematic life, a resulting that doesn’t lie with their acting ability but rather Taylor’s direction for the film or could be with Wilson’s poorly written script. In short, all these actors / actresses are great and do bring the star-power to the feature, but their characters aren’t quite that engaging and just come across as flat and one-dimensional, fulfilling the roles that are necessary to the story’s plot.
The mystery of what happened to Megan Hipwell is explored and unraveled in the movie The Girl on the Train. Director Tate Taylor latest film adaptation of Hawkin’s best-selling novel portrays the classic “whodunit”, layering the feature mystery and intrigue, which thanks to its source material, and is added by strong performance from Emily Blunt. Unfortunately, with an uneven pacing, sluggish presentation, predictable narration, and some one-dimensional characters, the movie never rises to the challenge from being mediocre. Personally, the movie was okay. It had its moments of being interesting and suspenseful, but it felt as if the movie was “going through the motions” of your standard psychological thriller. As for my recommendations, I would give this movie a “Rent it” as it doesn’t really have enough energy and excitement to warrant a glance in theaters (unless you’re a fan of the book or desperately curious to see the movie right now) or watching it multiple times. One should just suffice. The movie had promise, a compelling narrative from a riveting novel with a solid cast of actors and actresses. In reality, however, much like The Light Between the Oceans, The Girl on the Train is cold to the touch, failing to ignite its viewers in its dubious plot of truth and duplicity.
2.9 Out 5 (Rent It)
Released On: October 7th, 2016
Reviewed On: October 24th, 2016
The Girl on the Train is rated R for violence, sexual content, language, and nudity