October 10, 2016
Often before an advanced screening of a film, images from the movie and the movie’s title are typically on screen until just before the lights dim. For The Girl on the Train, the on-screen title was offset with another more transparent and slightly blurred version of the title. My first thought with this sense of double vision was: Is this movie in 3D? Did they forget to give me the glasses? Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t go away once the movie started, and not because the picture was blurry. Watching the story unfold (and “unfold” seems pretty generous), I never felt I was quite seeing things as I was supposed to.
I have not read Paula Hawkins’ “thriller that shocked the world” (the movie’s tagline) but based on the adaptation, I’m not sure what all the soccer moms were fussing about. It’s an incredibly bleak story involving adultery, paranoia, distrust, infertility, obsession, domestic abuse, rage, the fear of being alone, and (surprise!) misogyny. In a nutshell, an alcoholic divorcee named Rachael (Emily Blunt) fantasizes about the perfect lives of a couple that she sees from a train during her daily commute, until one day she witnesses a sign of imperfection. In a way too complicated to explain here, this leads to a mysterious but violent incident in a tunnel. What happened in the tunnel and who was involved? That’s the point.
Tate Taylor was undoubtedly tapped to direct based on the success of his last film, another highly anticipated bestseller adaptation that prominently featured women, The Help. This time around doesn’t go so well, as Train’s script trips over the story’s disjointed demands. The first ninety minutes are jarringly edited and somewhat convoluted as multiple flashbacks and three different women’s perspectives overlap to play out what led up to the crime and the repercussions thereafter. It’s meant to make the audience feel like Rachel, a character who is perpetually drunk and suffers from blackouts; but it continues for so much of the movie that you start to just wonder, not “WTF is going on?” like a good mystery, but just, “WTF?”
The performances of the three leads, including Hailey Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson, are all intensely impressive, especially Haley Bennett. Justin Theroux and Luke Evans are along for the ride and they do a decent job with the roles they’re given, but they’re basically just eye candy that needs to look vaguely threatening.
There are two aspects of assembling a puzzle that people enjoy: the process of actually figuring out how the pieces fit together and the satisfaction of seeing the finished product. In its best moments, The Girl on the Train is entertaining in a disturbing, manipulative sort of way, but once the big twist is revealed and all the pieces come together, it’s much more Col. Mustard in the observatory with the lead pipe than Keyser Soze suddenly not limping. Coming from such acclaimed source material, a mystery featuring a complex, truth-seeking woman-with-a-drinking-problem seems like it could have been an incredible cinematic opportunity. But The Girl on the Train is totally wasted.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Read next article: