Every now and then, I check out a book that I am able to read in one day, because I just can’t put it down. The Girl on the Train was one of those books for me. Although calling it a “novel that shocked the world” seems like overreaching, it was a fun read built around an interesting character.
That character is Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee who rides the train from the suburbs to Manhattan every morning. On the way, she passes the house where she used to live with her now ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). Rachel tries not to look at the home where Tom lives with his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby daughter. Instead, she observes Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans), a young couple who seems totally in love, until the day that Rachel sees Megan with a man who isn’t her husband. When Megan goes missing shortly after, Rachel gets entangled with the investigation into her disappearance, drawing the suspicion of Detective Riely (Allison Janney).
The novel layered together the stories of Rachel’s marriage falling apart with her current secrets and Megan’s own tangled web of lies. The film does a competent job of bringing these elements together, shifting between narrative perspectives without relying too heavily on voiceover, or jarring the audience back and forth too much. The rising action of the film does not have quite the suspense and the punch that the novel did, stumbling along a bit through the midsection of the film. Once it gets to the conclusion, however, I was pretty well on the edge of my seat, and I already knew the ending.
I appreciated the way that elements of film noir cinematography were used to capture Rachel’s distrust of her own memories. The story is already clearly setup with conventions of the genre—using an unreliable narrator, a lot of vodka, and plenty of plot twists. Adding to these, several scenes use contrasts of darkness and light, blurring, and shadows strikingly to capture Rachel’s growing anxiety.
Although these artful touches add to the production value, the film really succeeds on the back of Emily Blunt’s performance. Her raw depiction of Rachel as a woman who is an angry mess, but also sad, lost, and, suddenly, determined to make things less awful, gives the plot some emotional resonance. Blunt is great at playing both drunk and in withdrawal. She also is convincing in her insistence that she used to be someone less disastrous. Blunt’s performance is really the standout in the film, as most of the supporting cast delivers either lackluster work or is in the film so briefly they barely register above a cameo. For example, as Rachel’s roommate, Cathy, Laura Prepon shows up only long enough to move the plot along. Similarly, Lisa Kudrow plays Tom’s boss in two scenes so short I wondered why she had bothered with the project. As Megan, Haley Bennett’s delivery is flatter than the character’s secrecy really called for, and she is therefore far less interesting than Rachel. Luke Evans and Justin Theroux play the husbands without bringing much to the table beyond stock characters.
There are some curious choices made in the adaptation of the novel. The novel is set in England and it seems as though the film was moved to New York because of the choice to cast American actors, aside from Emily Blunt. Although it doesn’t really detract from the plot, and the set choices still capture the atmosphere of the novel, it is kind of a strange decision.
The Girl on the Train is a fun and compelling story told with some real style. The overall quality of the film, however, is reduced by some bland performances and stumbling pacing. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.
The Girl on the Train was directed by Tate Taylor and written by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins. It runs 112 minutes and is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity.
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