By: Amelia Solomon (Three Beers) –
The Girl on the Train is based on a novel of the same name written by Paula Hawkins. The novel was listed as number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list for several weeks and was extremely popular. Many critics and readers had deemed it the next Gone Girl, so it seemed logical that the rights were acquired to adapt it into a film, just like Gone Girl. Once Emily Blunt became attached to the project and Tate Taylor signed on to direct, who had seen success with directing the adaptation of The Help in 2011, the film was highly anticipated. Its October 2016 release date was also the perfect time for a psychological thriller.
The film, like its source material, revolves around Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic and possibly mentally ill divorcee, who rides a commuter train into and out of Manhattan each day. While on the train she obsesses over her ex Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their newborn baby, who live in a house that she can see from the train window. She also focuses on another house, on the same block in a quintessential Westchester County suburb, which is inhabited by Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), who she’s deemed the perfect couple, because they flaunt their love on their upstairs balcony. To make matters more incestuous, Megan is Tom and Anna’s nanny. When Megan goes missing, Rachel investigates what may have happened to her, but is stymied by large gaps in time caused by her drunk blackouts. What ensues is a mystery in which Rachel tries to piece together what happened, but she is an unreliable narrator.
The musical score in this film is a character in itself. It’s haunting and whimsical at the same time, invoking feelings of both dread and sensuality. When the credits rolled and I realized the composer was Danny Elfman, it all made sense. Elfman’s filmography includes such films as Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and Good Will Hunting. By choosing him to guide the mood throughout the movie, its thriller aspect is enhanced.
The performances in The Girl on the Train are very sound from the leads, to the supporting actors, and to the famous actors who appear in cameo fashion, such as Laura Prepon, Allison Janney, and Lisa Kudrow. But the lead performance by Emily Blunt as Rachel is fantastic. Blunt inhabits Rachel’s melancholy mood perfectly and is quite believable as a depressed drunk. Yet despite Rachel appearing as a unlikeable character and a possibly obsessive psycho, Blunt manages to bring a piece of humanity to her. As an audience member, you feel empathy for Rachel and want her to figure out what happened.
Director Taylor deliberately chose to pace this film as slow as humanly possible. I’d imagine this choice was made in order to create a distinct style. However, since The Girl on the Train is supposed to be a thriller, the extremely slow pacing did nothing to further the intrigue and tension. It made viewing the film feel tedious, especially during the first half. The second half becomes more interesting as more layers develop between the main characters. But overall, the film would have benefited from faster pacing.
The two supporting characters, Anna and Megan, look exactly alike. They are both beautiful and blond. The only discerning difference between them is the symbols that hang on their individual gold necklaces. Assuming that their physical attributes match those in the book, I understand this was done on purpose. However, when viewing them on the screen it becomes hard to tell them apart.
Anna and Megan also both talk in veiled language. Nothing is clear; everything is mysterious and vague. This may help to contribute to the thriller vibe of the film, but it reads false. Real people don’t talk this way. What results is a world that seems off and untrue, which makes one question if anything happening in the film would really happen.
Lastly, the male characters, including Tom, Scott, and Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez), who is Megan’s psychiatrist, all look like cologne billboard models. They are hot no doubt, but it’s another element that doesn’t ring true. It would have been beneficial to have at least one of them appear more rugged; more like an everyday man.
The ultimate measure of a successful thriller is if it keeps you guessing until the end, and when the whodunit part is revealed you’re shocked. Unfortunately, The Girl on the Train becomes predictable halfway through. There is a clue early on that is given, which some people may pick-up on and others might not. But it’s this early hint that gave the entire ending of the film away. I don’t think this was the director’s intention. By leaving this sign out, the film would have been more successful, allowing the viewer to piece together the mystery right before or during the climax.
The Girl on the Train is an entertaining thriller held up by a stellar performance by Emily Blunt. But it’s not Gone Girl, and if forced to compare it to something it would be more like watching a Mary Higgins Clark adaptation, but on a more prestigious channel than Lifetime.
The Girl on the Train (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: each time there is a voice-over.
Take a Drink: each time you see a train.
Take a Drink: each time Rachel sketches.
Take a Drink: each time you see a liquor bottle.
Do a Shot: when you see female or male T and A.
Shotgun a Beer: for Alex Vause, because she’s a boss!