The Girl on the Train Review

Posted: October 12, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
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Written by Daniel Simpsongirlontrainposter

2014 was a pretty interesting year for movies. It was the year Alejandro González Iñárritu made a triumphant return with Birdman, that Marvel soared their highest yet with the two-punch of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, that director Nuri Bilge Ceylan won a Palme d’Or for Winter Sleep, and the year Richard Linklater released his potential magnum opus, Boyhood. In the West however, all of these stories seem to be overshadowed by a little mystery/thriller from David Fincher. That film was of course Gone Girl, a movie which performed very well with critics and audiences and went on to generate a slew of think-pieces across the next few months. It’s reasonable that studios would want to replicate that success, and the new thriller The Girl on the Train seems a deliberate attempt to be, “the next Gone Girl”.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is an alcoholic whose life has collapsed since the messy divorce from her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who now has a new wife named Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and the couple have a child. Every day Rachel passes by Tom and Anna’s house and in doing so as developed something of an obsession with one of their neighbors, a young woman named Megan (Haley Bennet). One morning, Rachel sees Megan with a man who isn’t her husband and grows suspicious. She tries to confront Megan one evening, but blacks out and in the morning remembers nothing. This is problematic since that same evening Megan disappeared.

Like Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is a mystery about a woman who goes missing, explores gendered roles, deals an infidelity, focuses on a main character who may or may not be guilty, and punctuates certain scenes with details of graphic violence. Universal is clearly aware of these similarities because they’ve even chose to release the film a week after what Gone Girl’s release was in 2014. The question of course is how this stacks up to Fincher’s film and the comparison is not flattering. The Girl on the Train is a perfectly serviceable thriller, but it’s nothing special. Part of the problem lies in Tate Taylor, who quite simply is no David Fincher. He doesn’t do much to spice the material up visually beyond shooting in a fairly conventional manner and the bigger set-piece moments are only so-so. Taylor’s cast is also pretty mixed. Some people do pretty good work (namely Emily Blunt), but a lot of the other performances are more uneven.

I don’t want to throw Taylor under the bus entirely though because truth told his execution of the material is mostly fine. There may not be much in the way of a visual style here, but Taylor does give the film an appropriately darker look and some of the editing choices do work fairly well. Rather, at the end of the day the source story is just not all that compelling. Despite some non-chronological ending, this is actually a really straight-forward mystery. I was able to correctly predict what happened and why within the first ten minutes or so. This wouldn’t be so bad but there isn’t much to the film outside of the reveal. Knowing this sucked a lot of steam from the whole. I do think there is supposed to be some greater commentary regarding gender dynamics, but I suspect that might have been lost in translation. It’s clear that the novel was written from the perspective of all three characters and the film tries to do the same, but this is unambiguously Rachel’s story.

If the film has one claim to greatness, it’s because of Emily Blunt. Blunt fully invests into the character and brings a lot of emotional pathos to the screen. Her work is so strong in fact that she makes The Girl on the Train function somewhat as a character study even though there wouldn’t seem to be that much in the script. Despite knowing pretty well where things were going, I remained invested in Blunt’s character. The film also makes great use of two comedic actresses in very small roles; Alison Janey and Lisa Kudrow. I wouldn’t say either are great here exactly, but they both do a good job in the roles they’re given and separate nicely from their comedic personas. Some of the other performances though are a little weak. Haley Bennet in particular stood out as being very wooden.

In spite of all my criticisms, I don’t hate this movie or dislike it at all really. At the end of the day, The Girl on the Train is just a deeply average thriller. It doesn’t do much of anything to stand out and it’s potentially interesting framework is a thin veil for what is a basic little mystery. That said, it is a very watchable movie (again, Blunt helps a lot) and those looking for a solid potboiler will probably enjoy this well enough. However I don’t think it’s worth rushing out and seeing in theaters, in fact it might actually play better at home. Watching it in the (usually) distraction-less setting of a theater leads to a more focused viewing, whereas if one watches it more casually at home the twists might be a little more shocking. Maybe.

C+

Comments
  1. Andrea Simpson Myllymaki says:

    Read the book, it is excellent.

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