Critipeg: The Girl on the Train

Movies based on bestselling thriller novels are far from a sure thing. Sometimes, you end up with a classic (Silence of the Lambs). Other times, you can get a trashy but fun yarn (Gone Girl). While The Girl on the Train is far from the worst possible outcome from this equation, it’s still a bit of a mess.

Based on Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel, it’s the story of Rachel (Emily Blunt), an emotionally unstable divorcee and voyeur who’s stalking her ex-husband’s family (Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson) and neighbours (Haley Bennett, Luke Evans) through the window of her commuter train. On one particular commute, she witnesses an occurrence which serves as the key to solving a terrible crime whilst implicating her in it.

The cast also includes Allison Janney and even small parts from Lisa Kudrow and Laura Prepon. All are great actors who can elevate subpar material into something watchable. 

Unfortunately, they’re doing a whole lot of elevating here. Blunt’s performance in particular is tortured and awesome. She makes Rachel sympathetic when she needs to be, while still making her believably dangerous to those around her.

Director Tate Taylor previously helmed safe crowd-pleasers like The Help. He’s entirely the wrong filmmaker for this material. What could be a tight Hitchcockian thriller is riddled with poor choices. The story is all about ambiguity, but he leaves nothing to the imagination. 

Tate violates the show, don’t tell rule by having his characters voice their emotions through dialogue and horrendous voiceover. Even Danny Elfman’s score screams, “Here comes something creepy!” from moment one.

Tate’s largest shortcoming is that he is too beholden to his source material. The film would best be served by a director with less reverence for the novel, who is willing to put the film above the text.

Published in Volume 71, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 27, 2016)

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