By: Samar Khan
After months of hype surrounding the Emily Blunt-starring adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel of the same name, the film fails to impress. If there was one word to describe the film, it has to be as follows: soulless.
The film centres on Emily Blunt’s character, Rachel, who travels on the train from Grand Central Station in New York throughout the city and gazes out the window longingly at specific places. Oh, let me also mention that she is a wreck internally and an alcoholic. She gazes through the window of a home on her journey belonging to Megan (played by Haley Bennett). She recalls (through an insane amount of oddly placed flashbacks) her relationship with Tom (played by Justin Theroux) and how said relationship deteriorated when she failed to become pregnant and her current struggles with alcohol set in. Full credit goes to Blunt for selling the portrayal of a woman that has lost it all and NEEDS to drown her woes from her perilous past in some way.
Anyway, Megan works for Anna, who is played magnificently by Rebecca Ferguson (who rose to stardom upon last year’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s success). Ferguson was done absolutely no favours with questionable dialogue for her character but she has a charisma and aura that allows her to shine in any sort of scene which was on full display here in certain scenes. Furthering the story, however, Ferguson’s Anna is married to Rachel’s ex in Tom. Coincidence, no? See my point about the world being way too small and reliant on these little coincidences. Anyway, Rachel is barely holding it together (I think she has undiagnosed borderline Personality Disorder but I ain’t no doctor) and performs over-the-line acts such as sneaking into the home of the man who left her and the woman that replaced her amongst other things. That is as much as I will state about the plot without veering into spoiler territory but here is one final addendum: the film turns into a murder mystery centred on Rachel, Megan and others introduced during the former’s train journey.
Remember how I said she looks at specific places up above? That was stated for a reason, as every single person and building that you see has a connection to one another and lends the film with a very “small” town feel despite being set in the Big Apple. While intimately small atmospheres are generally a good thing for most films, that is not the case here, as it leads to plot holes galore and a feeling of “hmm, the amount of coincidences is ridiculous” throughout the duration of the film.
The reason I made the Gone Girl comparison in the title is simple; the film tries to do what Gillian Flynn’s book and David Fincher’s film achieved with aplomb and falls well short. For example, Gone Girl placed a heavy emphasis on the two narrators and just how unreliable their respective stories could be regarding certain incidents. Where Girl on the Train differs, however, is in its unreliable narrators being accompanied by scenes that might not actually have happened. Far too often during the latter half, I sat there and encountered bewildered fellow audience members wondering whether the stuff we were shown actually did happen or is just a plot device. Full disclosure: I read the book beforehand and while this is executed fairly adequately within that medium, it fails in film format because the film doesn’t present evidence about whether specific characters are guilty the way the book does. Suffice it to say, it’s a bit of a mess.
Going back to the use of the term “soulless” up above, allow me to elaborate on that. The film suffered from a feeling of being too fake and lifeless if that makes sense. For starters, nearly every single dwelling that our characters enter into or view, have the sense that no one actually lives there and it’s just a set for a scene. That “lived-in” feeling was missing that would have allowed the film to have a positive intimate atmosphere in scenes. The dialogue as well was arduous to sit through, as some conversations would not be spoken by real people in New York the way they were delivered in the film.
Another issue I had concerned the event setting up the final act, aka the climax. To use Gone Girl once again, the way the story was resolved in David Fincher’s thriller was actually thrilling (pardon the pun) and yet believable and delivered via wholly authentic performances by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Here, it felt far too campy. The climax had a mere three characters on screen and it… underwhelmed. Again, without veering into spoiler territory, we find out how the murder happened but sit there pondering the plot holes that allowed us to come to this particular segment.
Director Tate Taylor has a solid filmography coming in, with The Help and Winter’s Bone being two particular examples of his ability to craft very good films. The film is well put together for sure but lacks the heart that his other films are famous for. It doesn’t help that the soundtrack is rather average and it all adds up to a merely average film in the end.
The Girl on the Train is a decent film and will do wonders for the career of Emily Blunt, who delivers a wondrous performance as someone that literally looks as if she is fighting back the urge to bawl all throughout. She deserves more of the spotlight after delivering brilliant performances in past films such as Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow; it’s just a shame she is so good in a film that decidedly is not up to par itself. It features commendable yet wholly unforgettable performances from the majority of the cast (Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson excluded, the latter of whom shines in specific scenes) but is just so bland and “fake” at times, it drags the film down considerably. It’s still an enjoyable watch but requires viewers to suspend their disbelief multiple times and to not get rationally angry at certain decisions in the film.
We here at The Film Lawyers have awarded The Girl on the Train with a grade of C (6.0 / 10).