Saturday 8 October 2016

Film Review: The Girl on the Train

Billed as the book that shocked the world in 2015, Paula Hawkins' thriller The Girl on the Train makes the transition to the silver screen courtesy of director Tate Taylor.

The film follows Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a frazzled alcoholic washout who is still reeling from a messy divorce to Tom (Justin Theroux). With her life caught in a tailspin, Rachel travels into the city on the train everyday (even though she lost her job months ago) just so she can catch a glimpse of the house where she lived with Tom, which he now shares with his former mistress and now wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Living just two doors down are another couple that Rachel obsesseses over; Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), who she imagines are the perfect, attractive, passionate newlyweds that they appear to be.

However, when Rachel witnesses something terrible from the train window, she finds herself engulfed by a missing persons case and compelled to uncover the answers, even if it means placing herself at the forefront of the police investigation that doesn't want to take her seriously.

The Girl on the Train bears a lot of similarities with another pulpy page turner that became a film; David Fincher's Gone Girl. Both are sinister, sexy and surrounded by an everyday domestic setting. Both feature a missing persons case where nothing adds up and a series of shocking twists abetted by unreliable narrators. And both films look and feel kinda similar, a creative decision by Taylor and DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen that is almost definitely not an accident.

But to write The Girl on the Train off as a cheap copy of Gone Girl would be a mistake; the comparisons are there and maybe they shouldn't be so blatant, but the former still does more than enough to distinguish itself as a gripping suburban thriller in its own right.

As an adaptation of a novel, The Girl on the Train is surprisingly loyal to its source. There are a couple shortcuts added here and there, but for the most part, this is one book-to-screen adaptation that carries over pretty well. The only real issue I found was that some of the characters lacked the same level of depth, notably Tom and Scott. Both are quite one-dimensional compared to their book equivalents and this leaves the heavy lifting to the ladies.

Thankfully, they carry the film with gusto. Firstly, Blunt gives an incredible performance in the lead. It's easily one of her best roles to date and a stark change of pace from the kickass heroine we've seen her sample in Edge of Tomorrow or Sicario. Puffy and perpetually harried, her performance rises above the pulpy airport novel material and is worthy of serious critical acclaim.

Bennett also shines as Megan; caught between bored restlessness and sultry seduction, Megan forms the central mystery of the movie and Bennett captures this sense of an unreadable enigma well. Ferguson's role is a little underwritten but at least Anna comes across as more than just a cardboard cutout, like Theroux and Evans' characters.

It's a shame therefore that the film is lacking something. It's not easy to put my finger on, but The Girl on the Train is certainly missing that integral X-Factor to send it stratospheric. Whether it's the disappointingly forgettable and sparse score from Danny Elfman or the surprising lack of palpable tension in the third act, The Girl on the Train falls just short of greatness. Don't get me wrong, I was never bored or laughing when I shouldn't have - I think the film just needed a kick in the home stretch to really hammer home some of the twists that didn't hit as hard as they could've.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

It never scales the same dizzying heights of the Fincher film is so desperately wants to be, but The Girl on the Train is a moderately entertaining and chilling thriller that serves as a commendable adaptation of its source. Blunt is in another league but the trifecta of leading ladies all get the chance to strut their stuff.

The Girl on the Train is in cinemas across Australia now


  1. Great review. I'm glad you pointed out that it's not a Gone Girl rip off. Those comparisons kind of annoyed me because when I read Girl on a Train, I never thought of Gone Girl. They're so different.

    I'll be seeing this on Monday. I'm hoping it's better than the trailer suggests.

  2. Awesome write up! great to read Emily gives good performance, I'll see it just for her



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