It seems like there has been an uptick in adaptations of popular, adult themed novels being turned into films in recent years. Gone Girl was the peak of these films. The Girl on the Train may not be the nadir, but it is on the fast track (pun intended) to it. Boasting a strong cast and released at the same time of year as Gone Girl was to no doubt drawn comparisons, The Girl on the Train is definitely not Gone Girl, and wastes the talent of its cast.
Every day, Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides the train from her home to New York City and back. Every day she passes houses and catches a glimpse into the lives of the people who live there. Two houses catch her eye more than the others that she sees. One is home to two people she believes to be deeply in love based on the brief glimpses she sees. The other is the house of her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), the real estate agent he had an affair with while married to Rachel. Unbeknownst to Rachel, these houses are connected, as Megan (Haley Bennett) works as a nanny for Anna and Tom. One day, Rachel sees Megan on the balcony embracing a man (Edgar Ramirez) who is not her husband Scott (Luke Evans). The appearance of infidelity in the perfectly crafted story that Rachel had created in her mind of this couple is shaken, stirring up past memories of her broken marriage to Tom, leading to a spiral of alcohol and poor decisions and a hangover the next day along with bruises and a head wound. She soon finds out that Megan has disappeared. Rachel was seen in the area that night, is questioned by the police, and soon finds herself inextricably drawn into the disappearance of this woman as she struggles to remember what happened that night and the lingering question of if she could have killed Megan.
Along with the actors already mentioned, the cast is rounded out by a few other good names. Allison Janney is the detective investigating the disappearance of Megan, Laura Prepon portrays Rachel’s sister Cathy, and Lisa Kudrow has a small supporting role as a woman from Rachel’s past. The assembled cast is solid all around, and headlined by Blunt who has been involved in some of my favorite films of the last few years (Sicario, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow) but also some real clunkers (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Gulliver’s Travels, The Wolfman). This is the first film that she is the clear cut lead, and while she is fine, the material she is given is not up to snuff. The way she insinuates herself into Scott’s situation to try and help is incredibly ham-fisted and mishandled.
There are a lot of problems with this film. Structurally, the film jumps between Rachel’s story, Megan’s story, and Anna’s story. To complicate matters, it also jumps back 6 months with Megan’s story and then slowly brings it up to present time. It’s not entirely difficult to follow, but it also feels unnecessarily convoluted. The cinematography also feels amateurish at times too, with a few scenes filmed in a weird slow-motion style that evoked a late 80s music video.
Director Tate Taylor also feels the need to throw in an overabundance of reminders of the train, with several moments when we either audibly hear it or visually see it passing by in the background. And unfortunately the story is entirely predictable because of the way they hide faces in a handful of instances to suggest that there is more going on than what is being shown on screen. By the time the credits rolled, I was left with the impression that the film was a Lifetime movie that had inexplicably been given a big budget treatment.
The film hints at the themes of voyeurism, infidelity, and seduction. Coupled with the intrigue of a missing person and possible murder, these elements can be effective elements in the thriller/mystery genre, and even be done tastefully and not in a sleazy, campy way. Unfortunately, this film only dips it toes in these waters and never fully commits to one way or the other, instead settling for some weird in-between where there is a lot of skin shown, but no outright nudity either. It falls somewhere between wanting to be Gone Girl but also wanting to have a hint of appeal to the Fifty Shades of Grey demo. But it never reaches either audience.
The Girl on the Train is utterly predictable and at times feels like a glorified Lifetime movie. It wastes the considerable talent of Emily Blunt. The director has created an uninteresting adaptation of a bestseller. Unfortunately, this is more often the norm than the exception, as translating a compelling thriller from the page to the screen is difficult, especially when it involves memories and flashbacks and multiple narratives. The Girl on the Train gives the impression that it wants to be more than it is, but the end result shows that it wasn’t willing to put in the effort to really excel.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars