Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train” instantly drew comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” thanks to the use of multiple viewpoints, but let’s make something clear: as enjoyable as “Train” was to read, it doesn’t come close to plumbing the emotional depths that Flynn wrote into the truly psychotic Amy Dunne. At the same time, this works in the favor of the film version of “Girl on the Train.” Erin Cressida Wilson’s script puts a higher percentage of the source material into the film (the one thing book fanatics complain about the most), and the story’s main obstacle (recovering a lost memory) is a tried and true film device. Ask anyone who saw “Jason Bourne” earlier this year.
Films, however, reveal things that books do not, and that is what prevents “The Girl on the Train” from hitting the next level. It is competently made, with some outstanding performances, but the book is capable of concealing things that the film cannot. And with that, we will say no more.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a sad, drunk divorcee, taking the train five days a week to a job she no longer has. The train takes her by the house she once lived in, the one her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) now shares with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby daughter. A couple of houses down, Rachel sees a younger couple that seems blissfully in love. Recognizing that they have what she’s lost, she becomes obsessed with them, giving them fake names and occupations while she spies on them for a few seconds each day. One day, Rachel sees what appears to be a betrayal on a member of the happy couple, and when one of them disappears shortly after, she offers what she thinks she knows to the police, only to discover that in doing so, she has made herself the prime suspect.
Tate Taylor (“Winter’s Bone”) was smart to set up each of the female leads’ introductions with a title card and some narration. Those who have read the book will appreciate the acknowledgement of the story structure, and those who haven’t will appreciate the CliffsNotes version of what to expect. Aside from that, though, Taylor’s not able to inject much personality into the rest of the film, though his overhead shots of the train snaking down the riverside are lovely.
Emily Blunt is the best movie drunk ever. What she does here puts Denzel Washington’s performance as an alcoholic pilot in “Flight,” for which he received an Academy Award nomination, to complete and utter shame. The concussion-like stare, combined with the stammering, combined with the clumsy gait, is just perfect. Rebecca Ferguson turned heads last year in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” but she is given little to nothing to work with here, which is a pity, though she does the best with what she’s given.
The flashy supporting role belongs to Haley Bennett, who plays the wife in Rachel’s idyllic couple and, not coincidentally, is a hot, hot (naked) mess. She gets to be sexy and unhinged, and while the audience gets a little background on why she’s broken, it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Allison Janney also turns in solid work as the police detective who smells a rat in Rachel.
“The Girl on the Train” is an entertaining and easily digestible thriller about a situation that is far more complicated than any of us will hopefully ever know in our lifetimes. One can’t shake the feeling, though that the source material was written with the express purpose of becoming a film, with story at times taking a back seat to revenue potential.(3 / 5)
This review originally ran October 6, 2016 on Bullz-Eye.com.