The Girl on the Train (2016)

Based on the thriller that shocked the world

Is it fair to compare Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train with David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014)? Let’s see. Both are stories of suburban murder and betrayal told through deceptive, distorted narratives. Both are based off best-selling page-turning novels, Gone Girl written by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. In that regard, I’d say yes, it is. Okay, director Tate Taylor struck gold in 2011 when he adapted Kathryn Stockett’s critically acclaimed book, The Help, into an uplifting feel-good feature but that doesn’t exactly qualify him as the best candidate to tackle Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, what with its heavy themes of self-destruction, desire and underlying brutality. If the middling The Girl on the Train confirms anything, it’s that Taylor is certainly no Fincher.

Riding the crazy train ...
Riding the crazy train …

Let me begin by pointing out that the movie’s set-up has been altered from that of the book, with filmmakers moving the action from the outskirts of London to the suburbs just outside of Manhattan. That said, the flick basically follows three women who serve as unreliable narrators — whose commentary shape and alter our perception of the story — Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).

A boozed-up, unstable divorcée (who sips cheap vodka out of her fancy water bottle), our title character of Rachel is a complete train wreck (pun intended), obsessed with a life she once had. You see, every day Rachel rides the train to Grand Central Terminal, in Manhattan, which passes her old house, each time gazing into the world of another woman to escape her own pain, a woman who seemingly has it all — Megan, a stylish fair-haired blonde who lives with her mannish hubby Scott (Luke Evans) in a grand rustic home just a few doors down from where Rachel once lived. Sadly, Rachel used to be that woman. She was married to a protective husband named Tom (Justin Theroux), the pair building the perfect life for themselves in the ‘burbs until Rachel couldn’t get pregnant, and that’s when the drinking started. Tom still resides in Rachel’s old house, however he now has himself a pretty new wife, Anna, and an infant — a reality that Rachel can’t accept. Thus, when Rachel sees ‘mystery Megan’ (the object of her fantasies), canoodling with another man, she goes into an intoxicated frenzy, eventually waking up all bruised and battered, with news of Megan Hipwell’s disappearance. But, could Rachel have had anything to do with it?

It's rather err ... hot, wouldn't you say?
It’s rather err … hot, wouldn’t you say?

Throughout the whole ordeal we’re also given Megan’s perspective on the story, too, — that’s including her sessions with hunky therapist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez) who’s helping her deal with a fairly bleak past — along with that of Anna — afraid of the unhinged Rachel whose husband she stole.

While Tate Taylor has proven that he can handle projects centered on multiple women (whilst making them identifiable and sympathetic), it’s the script by Erin Cressida Wilson, Chloe (2009), that really brings The Girl on the Train down — the chief culprit, ineffective, messy time jumps. Although the non-linear back-and-forth plot worked wonders for Fincher in Gone Girl, it basically fails here, the little differentiation between shifts leaving viewers bewildered and confused as to what part of the story we’re in, whether past or present. Furthermore, the voyeuristic elements — seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s more refined Rear Window (1954) and D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia (2007) — come across as gossipy, the production’s straight-to-television Lifetime channel aesthetic giving the entire film a cheesy melodramatic odor. Even the lengthy monologues about perception versus reality feel kinda wearisome. Thankfully, Danny Elfman’s score is solid (as per usual) and the thriller’s final reveal is well executed and still quite startling (that’s if you give in to all the red herring), the whole thing concluding in a somewhat satisfying bloody climax.

That stalk-her feeling ...
That stalk-her feeling …

At the center of the soap opera madness is an incredible performance by Emily Blunt, Sicario (2015), who excels as the tragic figure of Rachel. Wavering in and out of consciousness (due to the bottle), Blunt fashions a rather unlikable protagonist who’s spilling over with stalker-ish qualities and grovelling after her ex. Be that as it may, one can’t help but root for Rachel to better herself, Blunt instilling a sympathetic quality to the barren, soon-to-be-homeless alcoholic. To be ‘blunt’ though, the 33-year-old is a far cry, physically speaking, from the character depicted in Hawkins’ writing, even if her act is first rate.

Though some are slightly miscast, the supporting players are passable, too. Questionable casting aside, Justin Theroux, American Psycho (2000), embodies Rachel’s ex Tom with certain poise, balancing all facets of his many-sided role, while Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), gives a credible rendering of his replacement wife, the homewrecker Anna, despite her iffy American accent. The beautiful Haley Bennett, The Magnificent Seven (2016), meanwhile, manages to highlight Megan’s inner squabble about becoming a family woman (restricted to domestic living) whilst simultaneously selling herself as the glamorous individual whom Rachel foists upon. Luke Evans, Dracula Untold (2014), isn’t the best pick for Megan’s shady husband, Scott, either but the pair fit well together. Last but not least, Allison Janney, American Beauty (1999), is convincing as Detective Riley, an officer working on Megan’s case who’s very suspicious of Rachel (and her sketchy motivations) whereas Laura Prepon, Orange Is the New Black (2013), adds a nice touch to proceedings as Cathy, Rachel’s college friend and roommate.

'That dingo won't get my baby!'
‘That dingo won’t get my baby!’

Ultimately, it’s the cast that stops this train from total derailment, The Girl on the Train just scraping by with a pass. Seeing as we’ve already been spoilt by the artistry of Mr. Fincher with not one, but two meticulous book-to-movie adaptations from the ‘Girl’ in the title trend — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Gone Girl — Tate Taylor’s middlebrow effort kinda pales in comparison. Is The Girl on the Train worth the fair? I don’t know … you decide.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Girl on the Train is released through eOne Films Australia