Tate Taylor’s adaptation is slick, stylish and boasts an impressive performance
from Emily Blunt, but the urgency and suspense of Paula Hawkins’s hit novel is
lost in translation. Many believed that the marketing for this film was not sufficient enough for a good opening weekend, in which it pulled into the station with over $24 million at the domestic box office.
The failings of The Girl on the Train can hardly be blamed on its source material. With its tight plotting, suspenseful structure and unreliable narrators, it’s no wonder that Paula Hawkins’s record-breaking thriller was snapped up by Dreamworks almost a year before the book was published. Unsurprisingly, it’s already been a box office hit, and there was a lot of potential for some modern-day Hitchcockian thrills here, but director Tate Taylor’s adaptation simply lacks the novel’s suspense and snappy pacing.
The film follows Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a barely-coping, just-about functioning alcoholic who simply can’t properly adjust to life after her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), who is now re-married (although still living in the same house) to his former mistress, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). This leads Rachel, from the fleeting vantage point of her commuter train, to obsess over a young, attractive couple (Megan and Scott Hipwell, played by Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) who not coincidentally live just down the road from the Watsons. The plot thickens when Megan, who Rachel had seen having an affair with her psychiatrist Dr Abdic (Édgar Ramírez), is reported missing.
Rachel is haunted by tantalizing glimpses of nights she can barely remember:
most tellingly, flashbacks to the night Megan went missing. The sporadic return of Rachel’s alcohol-induced lost memories is a smart way of both giving and withholding vital information to the audience. It is a shame, then, that the film struggles to maintain any real sense of suspense. This can partly be blamed on Taylor’s decision to try and incorporate three different points of view, one for each of the three main women in the
One of the strengths of the novel was that the use of three different narrat
ors provided a genuine sense of intrigue: just as one of Anna’s chapters was starting to give away crucial clues, the story would jump back to follow Rachel in the present day. Instead, the film simply meanders between the three characters, backwards and forwards in time, with no sense of urgency. This is coupled with characters that, aside from Rachel and Megan, are rather underdeveloped. It’s a shame because much of the film works rather well. Blunt’s performance is powerful throughout, she’s convincingly dependent and desperate, but also convincingly decent that the audience is firmly on
her side. The rest of the cast are good, particularly Bennett and Theroux, even if Evans seems slightly miscast as Scott and Ferguson is given too little time on-screen. It’s nicely shot (although some of the slow-motion scenes are a little out of place), and the move from a London to New York setting is not as disruptive as it might have been.
Perhaps viewers unfamiliar with Hawkins’s novel will be more forgiving of
the film’s shortcomings. At the very least, the stylish production and the strength of Blunt’s performance will do just enough to keep things afloat. With a $45 million budget and a $104 million worldwide gross, it never quite comes off the rails, but there are a few too many disruptions on the line for The Girl on the Train to reach top speed.