1.5 out of 5 stars.
It can be difficult to erase a book’s influence from your mind when watching its film adaptation, but let’s real: some stories, no matter how great they are, just don’t work in film form. Case in point: Paula Hawkins’ bestselling thriller “The Girl on the Train.”
Directed by Tate Taylor, the film version stars Emily Blunt as Rachel Watson, a woman who has sunk deep into depression and alcoholism following her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) leaving her for another woman, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Rachel takes a train from the suburbs into the city every day (In the book its London, here it’s New York; there’s no reason for the change, and they still picked a British woman to star. Whatever.) Almost every day, Rachel watches what she imagines to be a perfect couple outside their home, a few doors down from where she used to live with Tom. Rachel is shocked one day to see the woman with another man; later, after getting off the train to confront her about it, Rachel learns that the woman, named Megan (Haley Bennett) is missing, while Rachel can’t remember anything that happened after she got off the train because she blacked out after a drinking binge. Suspecting the worse after Detective Riley (Allison Janney) questions Rachel, believing she may be involved somehow since she was seen in the area, Rachel begins investigating Megan’s disappearance herself.
One of the most appealing aspects of Hawkins’ novel is that everyone, even the protagonist, Rachel, is a suspect at any given moment. The story itself is told from the perspective of three different characters: Rachel; Megan (mostly in flashbacks), and Anna. Taylor sort of attempts to do this with the film as well, but doesn’t quite pull it off. The flashing back and forth in time is somewhat jarring, especially since each segment follows different characters, although Rachel remains the main focus. The film also fails to effectively build up the relationships between the characters; like between, for instance, Rachel and Megan’s controlling husband, Scott (played by Luke Evans). Everything is rushed and abrupt, and as a result, there’s virtually no tension or suspense, and the ending feels obvious long before we get there.
Blunt gives one of the best performances of her career as the wrecked Rachel, but as a protagonist she’s not especially likeable (yeah, she’s been through a lot, but she’s pretty crazy in a kind of despicable way). In fact, none of the characters are, which could be part of the reason why it’s so hard to get invested in this movie. But likeable or not, each of the main female characters goes through an arc that’s rather interesting; Anna initially seems like a doting wife and mother, Megan like a stifled housewife, but they end up proving they’re capable of being so much more. The story’s feminist bent is part of what makes it so intriguing, but a lot of that gets lost in the awkward handling of the plot.
“The Girl on the Train” is more melodramatic than thrilling, and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. I can’t say that I was a particular fan of the novel, but I know that I couldn’t put it down as I was reading it; with this movie, I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Runtime: 112 minutes. Rated R.