Film Review – The Girl On The Train
The Girl On The Train
The Girl On The Train (2016) has the makings of a trashy little thriller – the only problem is that it thinks it’s way more clever than it actually is. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of dirt and sleaze, as long as the execution is up to the task of making it entertaining. However, director Tate Taylor and writer Erin Cressida Wilson adapt Paula Hawkins’ best selling novel with little inspiration or creativity. These are all characters that have skeletons in their closets, but they’re presented in a rather conventional mystery where the twists and turns aren’t as shocking as it suggests. It’s a missed opportunity – advertisements promise a kind of sexy rollercoaster but what we get is a flaccid merry go round.
The elements are all there: good looking actors and actresses, the boredom of suburban marriage leading to infidelity, a missing person, murder and blood. But it’s caged within a film that doesn’t want to get its feet in the mud. In one scene, a woman attempts to seduce a man by lifting up her dress and faking self-pleasure, but the man quickly calls her bluff, saying that she is “only pretending.” That bit of dialogue is apt for everything going on here; the filmmakers tease us by stepping close to the line of naughtiness but then pulls away, not wanting to get icky.
This stuff begs for a director ballsy enough to push the limit. Someone like a (younger) Brian De Palma or a (current) David Fincher – whose style can enrich the absurdity of the material. Erin Cressida Wilson even wrote the screenplay to a much better picture that explored similar themes, Chloe (2009). Atom Egoyan knew how to handle that story, and understood that holding back would sink the whole production. Tate Taylor is not at that point. He directs with a visually uninteresting approach. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography is bland, capturing characters either at mid shot (waist up) or at extreme close up, rarely digressing. The pacing rolls along with a gradual clip, and the suspense never builds until the very end, at which point it’s simply too late. It’s as though the people at the controls aren’t aware of how outrageous their story is.
How the various plotlines interweave is preposterous to say the least. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a raging alcoholic who pines over her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux). Tom and his current wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) live in the home Rachel once stayed at, and every day Rachel rides the train right by, sneaking glances through their windows. A few doors down lives Tom and Anna’s babysitter, Megan (Haley Bennett). Megan is married to Scott (Luke Evans), and Rachel sees them through their windows as well, acting like a normal married couple. One day, Rachel notices Megan smooching a man who is not her husband. Soon after, Megan disappears without a trace. How did this happen, who is responsible, and can Rachel really trust what she sees given her debilitating alcoholism?
All these various threads are bunched together in a disorganized structure. The timeline jumps back and forth, cutting between them with ridiculous title cards denoting the time: “A Year Ago” “Three Months Earlier” “Two Days ago” and so on. These title cards don’t mean anything in the long run – who cares if something happened a week ago or three months ago? We can discern the emotional trajectory of the characters without the extra help of a time stamp.
The narrative places Rachel in the midst of a missing person’s case while also making her the least capable person to solve it. Emily Blunt does her very best to portray a character suffering from her own personal demons. Her performance is the lone bright spot. The stronger scenes don’t have anything to do with the central mystery, but of Rachel’s attempts to overcome her addiction. It’s when Rachel tries to play the sleuth that things fall apart. She is terrible at deciphering clues, charging just about everybody as the criminal. She’s a trial and error kind of private eye. The film justifies her stalker-like behavior. All of the characters tell Rachel to mind her own business, but she continues to pursue even when she doesn’t have any clue what she’s doing. Even worse, her alcoholism is used an an obstacle that can be easily hurdled. Her rampant memory loss (from being black out drunk) is cured out of sheer luck, and she finally learns the truth not out of her intelligence or wit, but out of the mere process of elimination.
By the time The Girl On The Train arrives at its conclusion – punctuated with an admittedly awesome bloodletting – everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. It’s the worst type of ending you can have. In a story that’s meant to be messy, to end with all of the loose threads neatly accounted for rings as false. That’s like saying, “You know, the world sucks but everything is going to be ok!”