THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN Review

The Girl on the Train, the film adaptation of Paula Hawkins best-selling novel, is directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) and features a solid cast of talent led by the remarkable Emily Blunt, but ultimately serves as a reminder that even the most creative juices can be filtered through the system and down into the most generic of thrillers when there is no more motivation to a story than to relay melodrama. My apologies for the run-on, but like the movie it is describing there is a lot going on in The Girl on the Train with none of it seeming to amount to much at all. Even as the film comes to its "shocking" conclusion there is little to take away from the film other than the fact that we now know "whodunit" never mind the fact we don't really know why they did it or what more might be going on below the surface because that is as deep as The Girl on the Train gets: surface-level. That isn't to say there aren't glimmers of more interesting caveats to the film as it's clear the intent of the premise was to allow the material to explore how we perceive the lives of others yet only assign them a handful of details to remember them by when they, in reality, have just as full a life as one's own self. Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Men, Women, & Children) don't have much of an interest in these aspects of the story though as they seem more concerned with cramming in as much of the source material into their one hundred and twelve minute feature version without bothering to flesh any of that material out. Novels are, by nature, too layered and more inherently nuanced than films to be adapted directly and so the key when taking on a project such as this is to latch onto one idea or theme that the book contains and view the entirety of the story through that prism so as while maybe not capturing every moment from the beloved book one actually stands a better chance at capturing the spirit-which, both fans of the novel as well as the uninitiated (count me among them) will undoubtedly thank you for in the long run. This will not only add more compelling and fascinating aspects to the film with each viewing, but it will help viewers to better understand the fractured psyches through which this story is conveyed. As for the product Taylor and his team have delivered-there will be no replay value to this film. Once the mystery is gone it only becomes more glaring how poor the execution is.

Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) are a seemingly happy couple living in upstate New York,
It is painstakingly clear even from the opening title sequence that Taylor intends to leave no directorial trace on this film as zero creativity goes into the packaging of his product when endless opportunities lent themselves to not only the title, but the campy thriller vibe it so easily could have lampooned in an edgy way that might have made audiences sit up and pay attention. Rather, we get text faded on and off of an already filmed image in a font anyone in the audience could have picked at random. This may sound nitpicky, but in not taking advantage of obvious opportunities the tone is set early for The Girl on the Train to keep with this line of thinking throughout and indeed-there is no sign that this is a film crafted by the same guy who already adapted another best-selling novel into a rather fantastic film and turned the life of James Brown into a sprawling epic. Rather, Taylor holds no such innovations in his back pocket this time around leaving The Girl on the Train to seem as if it could have been directed by any hired hand that calls the Lifetime network home. Because essentially that is what The Girl on the Train is: a Lifetime original movie, but with credible talent.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it The Girl on the Train is a Lifetime movie where the lives of three individual women are spun together due to their past history with men and how each of them deals and acts within their (past) relationships. We are first introduced to Blunt's Rachel who it is made clear almost immediately is likely an unreliable narrator of sorts. She is an alcoholic and a dreamer, but more of an alcoholic as of late as she's dealing with the end of her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux) and the agony of watching him carry on with his new family in the house they bought and built together. It just so happens that, every day on her commute into Manhattan for work, Rachel's train goes by her and Tom's old house; re-opening the wounds every morning and afternoon never allowing them a chance to really heal. Tom is now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who was originally Tom and Rachel's realtor and whom Tom had an affair with while married to Rachel. To make matters worse Rachel was never able to have children despite multiple attempts with various options and Tom and Anna have just recently had a baby girl. In her attempts at escapism during her train rides Rachel begins to focus on the beautiful couple two houses down from where she once lived, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), but it is when Megan goes missing and Rachel goes from a casual observer to an active part of a puzzle both she and the audience are trying to piece together that things begin to get really crazy.

While The Girl on the Train may feel like a Lifetime movie it looks like something from the early 2000's where the largely grey palette of the film washes everything out as those non-film, non-phone digital cameras of the first few years of the millennium tended to do. Everything looks a little worn, a little dated, and just a tad off. This was clearly a stylistic choice as cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen has produced gorgeous work such as last year's Far From the Madding Crowd, but it seems an odd one as do the random moments where slow motion is all of a sudden enlisted to make Bennett's Megan look more dreamlike and desirable. It is these strange aesthetic choices combined with the pacing that plods along, the movie never being as enticing as it seems to think it is, that result in a project with zero energy and zero momentum that messes up the only real bright spot it has going for it (the performances) by glossing over them with sloppy editing. Maybe sloppy is a harsh term considering Taylor and his editors Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker clearly have an outline and goal in mind as they begin the film by profiling each of the three main women involved in the plot, but as they add in incremental flashbacks to relay Megan's character arc while at the same time jumping back and forth in time to highlight the Rachel/Anna/Tom triangle it all just becomes too convoluted to care about considering that outside of Rachel none of these characters have been developed enough to care about in the first place. The movie also does that strange thing of not explaining obvious factors that would need to be known for this world to make more sense. Like, let us know prior to the scene where Rachel is hanging out in a train station bathroom with a random while supposed to be at work why she isn't at work or how in the world these three women tend to see each other as much as they do when the normal proximity between Rachel and the other two women clearly isn't as close as it seems. These are small complaints that come to feel like bigger issues when the film ultimately plays out in a non-too dramatic form that uses brutality as a shock factor and deception in the form of lies to lead the audience in one direction eventually leaving us to feel betrayed by how little the film offers in light of the potential it holds.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a deeply sad and unstable woman who sees something that could involve her in more than she bargained for.
And so, the best thing The Girl on the Train has going for it is the stacked cast. As previously mentioned, Blunt's Rachel is the star here despite the narrative clearly wanting to extend those same courtesies of character development to both Megan and Anna. As Rachel, Blunt is giving it her all. Rachel is a character who it's made obvious has been unstable for some time. She is a woman wholly consumed by the past and the "what ifs" of her unfulfilled future that constantly haunt her. Rachel is a woman searching for a purpose or at the very least a distraction and it is through this need that she seemingly creates this unnecessary web of lies that our movie is attempting to frame in some accessible fashion. Blunt conveys this torturous state of being in that aforementioned bathroom scene where she more or less lays it all on the line and is willing to look as unglamorous as her characters situation truly is. Blunt is an extremely charming persona and she has always been able to carry a large amount of charisma within her small frame-proving in many roles to be the strong and steady constant others rely on and thus it is easy to see the appeal of such a damaged human being and the opportunity to play something different. I only wish Blunt had found a movie more worthy of the performance she delivers here. Even more so, I wish I could say the same about the performances of Bennett and Ferguson, but they are so grossly underdeveloped they become exactly the type of surface-level personalities the narrative was seemingly trying to deconstruct. Megan is little more than an object and she knows it-she's been as much since she went through puberty and even as she goes to therapy with Édgar Ramírez's Dr. Kamal Abdic to discuss her bouts of depression over being as much she can't help but to resort to the only tactic she knows that guarantees people will show her love-she sells her sexuality. At least Megan is given backstory through those incremental flashbacks leading up to her disappearance as poor Rebecca Ferguson is stuck playing the one-note over-obsessed stay at home mom that judges everyone for the choices they make that she doesn't agree with. Though Ferguson (who impressed everyone with her commanding presence in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) serves as the middle woman in a cycle or rather the portrait of what the other women once were and might eventually want to be one would think she might be integral to the story, but most of the time it's easy to forget Anna is even there. The same could be said for both Evans and Theroux's characters were they not absolutely necessary for the plot to function as it does, but this perfectly encapsulates the problem with The Girl on the Train: Everything is here for reasons that a certain series of events take place, but none of it carries any purpose.