Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2016)
“Based on the novel that shocked the world”
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson
Synopsis: A woman struggling to come to terms with the failure of her marriage becomes involved in the hunt for a missing woman.
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Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) is a woman on an ever-tightening spiral of descent, heading for a breakdown as surely as the train on which she rides each day is headed for New York. The friend (Laura Prepon) who gave Rachel a bed following the break-up of her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux – American Psycho, Zoolander 2) believes she’s travelling to work each day, but Rachel lost her job months ago because of her deepening problem with alcohol. Now her primary reason for riding the train each day is to catch a glimpse of Megan (Haley Bennett – Hardcore Henry, The Magnificent Seven) and Scott (Luke Evans) Hipwell, a couple living a couple of doors down from the rail-side house she once shared with Tom, whose marriage to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) has given him the child that Rachel never could. But her impression of their life as an example of the perfect marriage is blown apart when she sees Megan in the arms of another man shortly before she goes missing. While casting an unwelcome spotlight on the dark underbelly of the Hipwell’s apparently perfect marriage, the investigation into Megan’s disappearance reveals that Rachel is the first, blameless, link in a chain of deceit, and uncovers the truth behind the break-up of her own marriage.
It’s unusual for a high-profile woman’s movie like this to paint such a cynical portrait of the modern woman’s lot – and unlikely that it would have been green-lit had it not been based on a massive best-selling novel. While the film’s more adult tone is welcome, the adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel by Erin Cressida Wilson suffers from its attempt to replicate the chronologically fractured narrative of the book without enjoying the luxury of the explanatory internal conflicts available to Hawkins. It’s directed by Tate Taylor, a journeyman director whose movies tend to enjoy success despite his average talents, and once again he delivers a film that contains no unique style or distinctive voice; it’s generic fare for the multiplex in that respect, and you get the impression that the main reason for Taylor’s selection was his experience of directing a primarily female cast in The Help, his over-rated saga of black maids in the American South of the 1960s.
While The Girl on the Train succeeds in spotlighting the psychological frailties that can derail what appears to be the most solid of relationships, its entire plot ultimately hinges upon Rachel’s drunken blackouts during her marriage to Tom. Most of us have suffered the queasy morning-after feeling of being unable to recall everything that went on after an evening’s over-indulgence – but, unless we’re coming off a three-day binge, the reason we can’t remember certain parts of the evening is because nothing of significance happened during those brief stretches. The juicy stuff, we remember: throwing our hostess’s carefully arranged snacks at a wall during a dinner party, we remember; swinging a golf club into a mirror in a rage, we remember. But Rachel doesn’t, not because she was too drunk – that wronged hostess reveals that Rachel simply felt dizzy and had to lie down – but because the plot requires that she must unquestioningly accept her husband’s version of events until the movie’s final act.
It’s at this point that The Girl on the Train falls apart in spectacular fashion – and then compounds its disastrous blunder by killing off one of its characters in a manner that’s loaded not only with metaphorical significance, but a heavy dose of unintentional humour. Fans of Hawkins’ book are sure to be disappointed by Taylor’s adaptation, while those who are unfamiliar with her work will wonder just what all the fuss was about.
(Reviewed 2nd February 2017)