The Girl on the Train (2016) / Thriller-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson, Edgar Ramirez, Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, Lisa Kudrow
Director: Tate Taylor
Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson (based on the novel by Paula Hawkins)
Review published October 13, 2016
Greenlit, one might imagine, to capitalize on the success of David Fincher's Gone Girl, comes another literary adaptation of a popular domestic thriller in The Girl on the Train, an adaptation by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Chloe) of the 2015 novel from Paula Hawkins. As I've often stated in prior reviews, thrillers are a director's medium, and the best of them are usually helmed by visionaries who've fine-honed the craft for many years. Fincher is an example. The Girl on the Train's Tate Taylor (Get On Up, The Help) is not.
Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter's War, Sicario) stars as lonely, alcoholic divorcee Rachel Watson, who spends a part of every day commuting on a train, looking at the goings-on in a couple of homes that happen to be along the suburban New York route. One of those homes happens to be her former residence, where her ex-husband Tom (Theroux, Your Highness), who Rachel has yet to get over as evidenced by her persistent drunk dialing and texting to him, is inhabiting with his new wife Anna (Ferguson, Florence Foster Jenkins), and their newborn child. Another home, just a couple of houses down, has another happy couple, Scott (Evans, High-Rise) and Megan Hipwell (Bennett, The Magnificent Seven), which makes consummate train-wreck (no pun intended) Rachel so envious, she drowns her jealousy toward those living the perfect Stepford-esque life the once had with more bottles of vodka, causing paranoia, blackouts and otherwise erratic behavior. When Rachel spies Megan with another man, then goes missing, she thinks she may have a clue to what may have happened to her, getting involved in ways that make her a potential suspect -- or a potential target. If only she could remember all of the details through her drunken blackouts.
As you'd likely expect from a thriller involving a protagonist with a faulty memory, there's going to be more than meets the eye in terms of the explanation of the mystery at hand. While there's still a mystery at hand, The Girl on a Train maintains a modest watchability, even if it isn't always clear what the motivations of any of the thinly defined characters are, something the plot uses to its advantage in terms of keeping us guessing. However, once all of the pieces get put into place, the more the implausibility of the entire premise seems to grow, until it is revealed that there's nothing to the story other than to keep you guessing, and, once revealed, it devolves into a standard thriller with no real investment in seeing where things lead for any of the characters beyond that point.
If there's any theme to the film at all, it's perhaps that the lives of others are far more complicated, and perhaps far more dark, than what we could ever witness from passing observations. This is something dealt with in Hitchcock's masterpiece of the pleasures and dangers voyeurism from 1954, Rear Window, which The Girl on a Train seems to resemble in a certain respect, except without the wit, suspense, or clever storytelling. What worked so well in Rear Window is that the film is enjoyable on many levels beyond just the main mystery, which doesn't kick in until halfway through. Where The Girl on the Train fails is that its only hook is the mystery itself, and once you've figured it out, whether through guesswork (which isn't as easy as you'd think, given that the film cheats in what it shows you, as well as what the narrators perceive), or through the reveals to come, all that intrigue dissipates into thin air, much like the memory of the movie will do not long after you leave the theater.
While the actors perform within the confines of their thinly defined roles well enough, and the mystery at the heart of the soap-opera story does offer up a modest intrigue, ultimately, the less-than-enthralling delivery by Tate Taylor and his inability to use the music and tempo of the editing to generate proper suspense forces us to look to the hole-riddled plot and characters who must behave in determinedly irrational fashion at all times for that plot to work. This lack of our investment results in an ending that generates very little of the sizzle one would assume from the build-up, with a flaccid sequence of events that exposes just how hollow this shell game is. For those who like trashy thrillers, perhaps you'll find something to treasure, but for anyone hoping for a repeat of the pleasures of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is just trash.
©2016 Vince Leo