The Girl on the Train (2016)
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans
Runtime: 1h 52min
Reviewer: Stephen Bray
Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train was an excellent and well-received novel and a deserving winner for the 2015 Goodreads Mystery & Thriller Choice Award, so it was with little surprise that a cinematic adaptation got the green light. Cue all the fans of the novel to take to Facebook and complain about how the “book was so much better”, without regarding the fact that adaptation is an opportunity to bring fresh material to the same story. Though in this case, the fans might just be right.
There’s really not anything interesting going on in Tate Taylor’s (The Help, 2011; Get On Up, 2014) fifth film. It’s not necessarily his direction, which is completely sound for the most part, but rather a script and project that was doomed to mediocrity at best. It is more than evident that Taylor really tried. The cinematography, for example, is beautiful but does not feel like it belongs in The Girl on the Train. Brief shots of idyllic locations, such as a water fountain in the park or the railways themselves, belong in a Terrence Malick film rather than a thriller concerning the prying nature of a depressive alcoholic. This is one of the main obstacles preventing the film from displaying the gritty nature that the source material nailed which should have been carried over. Yes, a writer should make changes in adaptation, but only if it doesn’t compromise the aspects that complement the narrative itself.
More than anything, it’s a boring film. Although Emily Blunt delivers an exceptional performance and probably the best she’s given, surpassing the materialistic qualities of her character in The Devil Wears Prada or her heroic tendencies in Edge of Tomorrow, she has transcended into a deeper role which draws out your feelings of pity, dislike and empathy all at the same time. You dislike her because she pries into other people’s affairs and drinks heavily. It’s a hard thing to admit, but alcoholism is something people struggle to empathise with and, a lot of the time, even to sympathise with. You find yourself questioning why on earth someone would turn to something as damaging as alcohol. It’s only when you unravel the backstory of Blunt’s character that you start to see the fractures in her mind and soul, and that’s when you relate to her. It’s when you remember all the times you’ve felt down and wanted to turn to alcohol but, lucky for you, were able to resist the temptation. It’s when you consider how you would feel if someone you loved had fallen into that pit. It’s a tough subject, and Blunt really captures it well in her representation of the horrific addiction, despite the odd creative decision to include a strange monologue in the lady’s room that echoes Shakespeare, if Shakespeare had been a bad writer.
She shines over the other stars of the movie, but not in the good way that Heath Ledger outshone his co-stars in The Dark Knight or how Al Pacino outshone his co-stars in Scarface. It didn’t complement anything else at all. Rather, it highlighted the fact that everything else about the film was incredibly mundane. At least in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale portrayed a main character that wasn’t perfect, but helped make the film the success it was critically. In The Girl on the Train, the closest we get to another good performance is Haley Bennett who, to be honest, is irritatingly sexual in that rather than artistically imply her encounters, she becomes more of a male gaze. Beyond her, every single performance was completely average and, quite bluntly, bland.
Perhaps the main problem stems from the source material. The interest within the story pertains to the constant mystery. It’s a whodunnit story at its core. In fact, the first half is very much a who’s-done-it-if-anyone-has-done-anything story. All the film will really do for a fan of the book is make them realise that now the mystery has gone, there’s no repeat-ability in it. It points out that now you know all the answers, you probably won’t bother to read the book again because there’s nothing in it for you anymore. The film is such a direct page-to-screen adaptation that you’ll wish you realised this before you spent a tenner on a cinema ticket. Those who haven’t read the book will go into the film and think one of two things, depending on your likes and dislikes. If you are a book lover, you’ll just wish you had read the book instead. If you don’t like reading you’ll leave the screen, turn to your companion and say: “Well, that was a bit crap.”