By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
Let’s be honest, you may not have read THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, or maybe you have, but if you haven’t, you definitely know someone who has. Released early last year from British author Paula Hawkins, it was the book to read. It was everywhere, and nearly everyone was reading it or talking about it. It was the #1 best selling book for weeks on end, and everyone loved it. I, regrettably, did not read it. I really wish I did, and I say that because, now having seen the film, I don’t know if I really want to. It’s not necessarily because I know what happens, I’ve read tones of books after having seen the movies, but it’s just that this movie isn’t great, and it’s sort of turned me off from the book entirely.
With a narrative that intercuts over the course of a few months, we follow three different characters. The first, Rachel (Emily Blunt), is a severe alcoholic, so much so that she’s ruined her marriage and job by it, now spending her days riding along the train to New York and back, watching the locals and making up stories about their “perfect” lives. Our second protagonist is Megan (Hayley Bennett), a young woman just trying to live out a normal life, but the life she lives is one full of secrets, sex and lies. She works as the babysitter for our third protagonist, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who also happens to be the current wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux).
While the narrative isn’t simply a straightforward story, it all revolves around one event. It all revolves around the disappearance of Megan. Her disappearance has no explanation, but fingers are being pointed, and some of these fingers are being pointed at Rachel, who was a key witness of the disappearance before she blacked out and completely forgot the events of that night, which she has alcohol to thank for. Also seemingly connected in Megan’s disappearance is her husband, Scott (Luke Evans), and therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramírez), but is this just another ordinary disappearance, or is there a little more than meets the eye?
When the book was first released, many claimed it to be the next GONE GIRL, and from the look of the trailer, they seemed to be right. It was giving off similar vibes, and hey, it even had ‘girl’ in the title. Unfortunately, however, this film is not the next GONE GIRL. In fact, it’s very far from it. It’s a shallow, uninteresting and lifeless film that tries so very hard to be good, but settles for mediocrity. It’s got certain similarities to GONE GIRL, I’ll give it that, but the way these similarities are handled here are to a much lower quality.
The cast of this movie is all sorts of brilliant, taking these characters from the page to screen with excellence. Emily Blunt can star in a four hour long epic where all she does is attempt to brush her cat and I will happily be there opening day. From SICARIO to LOOPER to EDGE OF TOMORROW, she’s a versatile actress with a solid filmography, and the character she plays here is a little different to the one you would typically expect from her. She’s a broken, frail character and Blunt without a doubt nails it.
Hayley Bennett hasn’t really been on my radar until recently, despite having seen her in a number of films over the years, mostly notably MARLEY & ME and THE EQUALIZER. But after her performance in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN a few weeks back, and knowing that she was set to star in this, I’ve become quite fond of her, and once again, she’s great. The same goes for Rebecca Ferguson, who I only started to appreciate after last year’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION. While I didn’t actually recognise Ferguson in this at first, she is extremely good.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN serves as both a thriller/mystery, and an intense character study on alcoholism, marriage and emotional abuse, and it tells this story through its varying types of characters. Sex addicts, cheaters, liars, alcoholics and abusers. The film covers a lot of different types of people, all of which are problematic, and all of which have dark secrets locked away. Everyone has their role to play. Nobody is innocent. And while that works for the plot, as an audience member, I felt disconnected to the events on screen. It’s a detailed look into these character’s lives, and the issues each of them face on a day to day situation, but nothing about them made me feel sympathetic towards them.
Let’s look at Rachel, for example. She is our primary protagonist, and while we do get stories told from the perspectives of Megan and Anna, they’re not given as much screen as Rachel does. She’s a struggling alcoholic, and it takes a very long time before I felt any sort of connection to her. She felt distant and out of reach, and no matter how much I tried to relate back to her, I simply couldn’t. It isn’t until early into the third act that I started to care ever so slightly about her, but she goes and ruins it shortly after, and I was returned to my state of uncaringness (Ed’s note: Is uncaringness a word?). Nobody in this film is remotely likeable, and no matter what the outcome of their story arcs was going to be, I wasn’t always rooting for a happy ending.
As the film went on, I was intrigued to see where it was going. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the outcome of the movie, or what exactly it is that happened to Megan. It did enough of a job to get me invested in the plot, but at the same time, it did so much to throw me out of it. Full of plot holes, repetitious flashbacks and some really befuddling editing, the film tries to put you into the shoes of Rachel, blackouts included, but instead of having me hooked, it left me in a confused state of mind. I wasn’t thinking “oooh I wonder what’s going to happen next,” but was instead trying to process what it is exactly that’s going on, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
For the entire runtime, I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel. They didn’t do a good job at conveying the mood, and whether director Tate Taylor (THE HELP, GET ON UP) or screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (MEN, WOMEN & CHILRDREN, SECRETARY) is to blame is a mystery. Neither the directing nor the writing is particularly powerful, and if it weren’t for the performances and occasional mystery, this wouldn’t even be considered an okay film. It would just be a straight up bad one.
There will be no spoilers to be found here, but before I wrap this review up, I must discuss the film’s third act. Serving as another parallel to GONE GIRL, the third act of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is intended to shock, and at some stages even repulse, revealing all and letting these characters interact now that all the information is up in the air. There are times where I enjoyed it, and there are definitely some great moments, but there are other moments that… well… they’re not so great. They’re out of character, nonsensical and, to be frank, not that interesting. If you thought the ending of GONE GIRL was dissatisfying (I thought so when reading the book, but after a few viewings of the movie I grew quite fond of it), prepare to be even more disappointed with the way this film ends.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN should’ve been one of the year’s best films, just like it was supposedly one of the year’s best books just last year. It has a lot going for it, especially the performances from all the cast members, and there are certain elements about it that I love, but it’s a film that almost feels a little too distant at times, not allowing the audience to be welcomed into the story, and it ends on an extremely dissatisfying note.
2 1/2 Stars