The Girl on the Train Review
Cinema rarely paints train travel to be the unreliable and tedious slog that it really is. Strangers on a Train, The Great Train Robbery, Murder on the Orient Express, Brief Encounter and Double Indemnity all find a kernel of excitement and adventure in the Industrial Revolution’s greatest stamp of progress. Director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of the best-selling Paula Hawkins novel, The Girl on the Train, strives to transform the daily commute into a Hitchcockian murder mystery thriller. Rather than replicating Rear Window on rails, it goes down the wrong track only succeeding in perfectly encapsulating the utter tedium of a routine two hour train journey between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston.
We begin our cinematic journey by meeting Rachel (Emily Blunt), a depressive alcoholic struggling with her recent divorce, on her daily commute into central New York. The train passes rows of grand suburban castles, one of which conveniently happens to house her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). While bitterly spying on his new life, she soon begins obsessing over his neighbours instead; a young couple whose porch overlooks the tracks. A stunning blonde, Megan (Hayley Bennett), whimsically saunters about the porch in her underwear, only ever interrupted by her hulking other half, Scott (Luke Evans), who meets her with a loving embrace. Rachel fantasises about this couple and their perfect life, enviously imagining the smallest details of their existence, until one day the illusion is broken; the blonde is on the porch in the arms of another man.
In an alcohol fuelled rage Rachel departs the train at an earlier stop in order to confront Megan over her infidelity. The next thing Rachel remembers is waking up back in her apartment covered in blood and bruises to the news that Megan has gone missing. After suffering a total blackout she finds herself the prime suspect in Megan’s disappearance.
The comparisons to Rear Window are inevitable, but Rachel’s personal stake and joyless condition make this far from the accidental adventure of Hitchcock; but then neither is it sophisticated enough to follow the DIY sleuthing of Blow-Up, The Conversation, and Blow Out. Instead Rachel’s battle to remember most closely resembles Memento minus any of the ingenious narrative construction. The film straddles between being a generic murder mystery and a redemptive tale of Rachel reclaiming her former self. It soon becomes clear that these two parallel tracks aren’t really compatible, or at least not for Taylor.
In fact the film’s biggest flaw is just how weak the story appears on screen. Hawkins’ narrative is built on an absurd level of convenience that, from the moment we discover Megan and Scott live a few doors down from Tom, discards any mystery or plausibility. Everything ties together perfectly in this insular world of incredulous coincidence. Via a series of fortuitous encounters and unsubtle exposition Rachel is able to solve the entire mystery. One crucial plot twist is built on an all too accidental crossing of paths on the train. Some films make you believe in a world far beyond the frame of the camera, but The Girl on the Train feels wholly disingenuous in its mystery by numbers set-up. While the plot never threatens plausibility, perhaps the most alarming issue is just how dull and disengaging the viewing experience is.
The film’s ability to convince suffers even further from the idyllic reality it portrays. This yuppie neighbourhood resembles something from Blue Velvet or The Stepford Wives in its dreamy aura but without any sense of satire, irony or humour. Everyone and everything is sexed up and sculpted with a veneer of flawlessness for purely aesthetic reasons. In the end the likes of Scott and Megan are as involving as a robotic Stepford Wife, totally wasting the talents of Evans, Bennett and co. Rachel, even with all her inner turmoil, can’t escape the draining detachment from reality. At one point we’re told Rachel has been out of work for a year, yet somehow her divorce settlement has paid for rent, daily commutes, Martinis in fancy Manhattan bars, and a constant supply of booze. The viewer’s intelligence is barely registered let alone tested.
Even Emily Blunt, with her constantly puffy face and deadened eyes, can’t inject passion into Taylor’s humourless affair. Filmed relentlessly in shaky handheld close ups we’re literally faced with Rachel’s dour demeanour for the whole film leading to a disorientating lack of context. Taylor strives for strong emotional resonance by sheer proximity but does so at the expense of effectively managing the pressing murder mystery. Taylor’s inability to blend the far-fetched premise into a compelling story is further unaided by some haphazard editing. The story flits inconsistently between person, place and time making is yearn for the non-linear mastery of Tarantino or Nolan, or even superior companion piece Gone Girl.
Whether the same can be said of Hawkins’ novel is a whole other question, but Taylor’s film is a lowest common-denominator-bunny-boiler-dispensable-airport-time-filler to get middle aged women hot under the collar before their imminent menopause. It’s a bland, trashy piece of filmmaking that feels cheap and artificial without a redeeming sense of being a guilty pleasure. Do yourself a favour, miss this and take up train spotting – the 17.43 to Lemington Spa is looking mighty exciting all of a sudden.
2/10 – Throw Me Under the Tracks