The Girl on the Train. Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson. DreamWorks Pictures. Rated R. 112 minutes. Mystery, Thriller. Released 7 October 2016.
Let me get to the point. I didn’t like The Girl on the Train. You probably shouldn’t go see it. I only did because I thought I could write a whole bunch of railway puns while summarizing it. However, the film turned out to be so tedious that it feels inappropriate to fill the rest of the review with them. So instead here are a couple of quick lines I scribbled down before even seeing the film. I’d rather they not go to waste:
This film quickly goes off the rails.
A talented cast is railroaded down the wrong track.
You’d have to be loco-motive to see this movie.
Now for the film itself, which is based off the bestselling book by Paula Hawkins and tells the story of Rachel (Emily Blunt, who’s better in Sicario), a divorced alcoholic who takes the train into the city every day to drink vodka and pretend she’s still employed. During these long trips into the city, she stares wistfully out the window; her eyes are glazed over and she’s watching all the pretty houses pass her by, looking like she’s wishing she wasn’t on the train —a look similar to the one I had while watching this film.
The reason that Rachel is looking at those big, pretty mansions is because she used to live in one of them, before her life went all topsy-turvy. Now it’s occupied by her ex-husband (Justin Theroux, better in American Psycho), his second wife (Rebecca Ferguson, better in Mission Impossible 5), and their cute baby (better in your friend’s Facebook photo album). I couldn’t be bothered to remember their names. Rachel is faced with a daily glimpse into their very sexy, curtainless, and middle class lives, because either a) this train runs remarkably slow, or b) drunk Rachel has the eyesight of a peregrine falcon.
This train of eternal torment also gives Rachel a peek into the lives of another couple (played by Luke Evans and Haley Bennett, better in High-Rise and nothing else) on the street who like to make out, in full view of the morning express, on their deck. Our drunken, peeping Tammy, protagonist concocts a fairy-tale like life for this couple. When something spoilery causes a fracture in the fantasy, she drunkenly disembarks the train and she does… something, something…waking up covered in bruises and blood the next morning with no memory of what happened (what a drag!). The fantasy wife is now missing and it’s up to Rachel to solve the case, but could she be the murderer!? Cue police, planted memories, and violent feminism.
It’s that last part that reveals what this film’s real intentions are: to be the next Gone Girl. From the similar trailer, to the similar release date, to the fact that the book comes with the tagline of “the next Gone Girl,” this is a film desperate to cut itself from the same cloth as the David Fincher 2014 blockbuster.
So while it too swims in the same themes of betrayal, jealousy, and emotional abuse (all with an unreliable narrator), it does so in a kiddie pool compared to Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s work. It is a psychological thriller that is neither psychological nor thrilling with a basic, predictable solution wrapped up in emotional pseudoscience and dragged out for as long as possible (presumably so as to include bizarre cameos like Phoebe from Friends).
The director, Tate Taylor (The Help, of course), spends most of the film forcing Emily Blunt to continually provide some variation of “distraught” in close-up after close-up, while surrounding her with wooden cogs in the plot rather than anything resembling actual characters.
Finally, and this is a minor complaint, this is yet another film that takes a book set in the UK and supplants it in New York, presumably to continue the myth that Americans actually ride trains above ground. A real American remake would’ve involved Rachel drunkenly boozing her way onto a subway car and watching rats fight over pizza, like the now famous YouTube clip. If you haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend watching it instead of The Girl on the Train.