As with High Fidelity, a lot of fuss has been made about the relocation of The Girl on the Train from the UK to the US. Frankly this didn’t bother me. Plenty of other things bothered me, but I’ll get to those in a moment.
Based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train begins with… well, a girl on a train, Rachel (Emily Blunt). Rachel is battling alcohol addiction following a disastrous marital breakdown. She takes a particular commuter train (to London in the novel, to New York in the film), which passes the house of a seemingly happy husband and wife, about whom she idly fantasises. But one day Rachel witnesses an incident that could prove to be of vital importance when the wife disappears.
Let’s start with the positives: Emily Blunt is very good, and she is well supported by the likes of Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Haley Bennett and Alison Janney. Director Tate Taylor (in conjunction with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen) creates a distinct look for each of the various female points of view in the story (for example, in Rachel’s case, a woozy handheld camera to accentuate her alcoholic haze). Furthermore, certain plot themes – the devastating effects of alcohol addiction, the anguish of infertility, abusive relationships and so on – are potentially intriguing.
However, my problems with the film are the same as my problems with the novel. None of the afore-mentioned themes go anywhere particularly interesting, and other plot elements are as hackneyed as they come (for example, some very tired nanny-having-an-affair clichés). The thriller mechanics do work well, even if they owe a debt to Hitchcock (particularly Rear Window), as well as other recent films such as the vastly superior Gone Girl, but the most serious problems cannot be overcome by the thriller element.
For me, the most serious issue was that I didn’t care about a single person. Perhaps I am in a minority, but even Rachel failed to generate much sympathy. Some will argue that a cast of such deeply flawed characters makes the story more realistic, but in this case it simply caused me to disengage, resulting in a competent but unmemorable whodunit. Speaking of whodunit, when I read the novel I predicted the perpetrator within about three chapters.
The usual warnings apply for sex, bad language and violence, as well as a fairly bleak view of the human condition (albeit one containing hints of redemption). In the end however, this is a film I’d only recommend to Emily Blunt completists.