VOD film review: The Girl on the Train
James R | On 11, Feb 2017
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans
Watch The Girl on the Train online in the UK: Netflix UK / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Emily Blunt is amazing. It’s a scientific fact, like water being wet and halloumi being the best cheese. She’s proven it time and time again, from her scene-stealing turn in The Devil Wears Prada to her butt-kicking lead roles in Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow. She’s that rare thing: an actress you could cast as a funny best friend and as the next James Bond. So when she was picked to play the main character of The Girl on the Train, based on Paula Hawkins’ wildly popular book, it was a given: Emily Blunt would be amazing. The question was what the rest of the film would be like.
She plays Rachel, an alcoholic who spends her life going to and from work, and not remembering much in between. She apparently blames herself for her divorce, still obsesses over her ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), and unnerves his new partner, Anna (Ferguson). As on the page, it’s immediately clear from the off that this is her story. Blunt’s dazed cloud of forgotten events looms over us when she’s on-screen, an all-consuming performance that’s tragically convincing, right down to her bleary-eyed stagger. Blunt has always excelled at characters with a tough exterior and here, that exterior crumbles repeatedly on camera, her downcast expressions clearing every now and then with a panicked fear of what she might have done the night before.
The one bright spot in her day involves Megan Hipwell (Bennett) and Scott (Evans), a couple whose life appears perfect through Rachel’s railway window, as she chunters past their back yard. When Megan goes missing one evening, after Rachel saw her with another man in the garden, our heroine’s mind starts racing. Is there something more sinister at play? And why does she seem to recall being near their house that night?
Hawkins’ novel is a cracking page-turner that races on rails to a superbly shocking finale. Written through various diary entries that hop back and forth in time, it’s a masterful bit of storytelling, drip-feeding information with suspenseful precision. The comparisons to Gone Girl were inevitable, from its epistolary format to its dark undermining of the civilised surface of domestic life. While that book got an adaptation from David Fincher that drew out the potboiler’s wicked satire, though, The Girl on the Train is a less smooth ride.
The cast are as good as can be, from Haley Bennett’s deceptively sad Megan and Luke Evans’ unexpectedly intimidating Scott to Rebecca Ferguson’s fierce Anna and Edgar Ramirez as Megan’s enigmatic therapist. Justin Theroux is the stand-out of the bunch, mainly because of how much he channels that same blend of earnest husband, frustrated former spouse and protective father that made his work in HBO’s The Leftovers so effective. The presence of Orange Is the New Black’s Laura Prepon as Rachel’s long-suffering flatmate and Allison Janney as the detective investigating the whole affair are a bonus. But the ensemble’s work eventually becomes as jumbled as Rachel’s memory, any impressions they make lost in the movie’s ever-twisting web of plot points.
Adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson, the script recreates the book’s framework, but struggles to navigate the narrative with the same subtlety; the film seems so keen to keep its twisting surprises in sequence that it focuses less on depth, leaving the people driving the story feeling more cliched than they do in the book – a shame given how strong all three central female characters are. Relocating the whole thing to New York to give it more gloss doesn’t help, only reinforcing that sense of style over substance. Tate Taylor shoots it all with cool class, and DoP Charlotte Bruus Christensen echoes Blunt’s woozy state, but there’s something missing; where Gone Girl balanced its potential lurches into melodrama with jet-black humour, The Girl on the Train is notably a smile-free carriage, from start to finish. Perhaps if the whole thing were only told from Rachel’s perspective, it would give the film a more consistent tone and hold the jumpy script together. As it is, the girl is great – and well worth watching – but she only just keeps the train on track.
The Girl on the Train is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.