The Girl on the Train is director Tate Taylor’s take on the novel of the same name, which tries desperately to be seen as smart, but fails miserably both technically and intellectually.
Rachael (Emily Blunt) is the obsessive ex-wife of Tom (Justin Theroux), who rides the train to New York and back every day, seemingly for the sole purpose of serving her Rear Window style voyeuristic tendencies. She then forcibly injects herself into the disappearance case of Megan (Haley Bennett) after witnessing suspicious behaviour while her train is passing Tom’s neighborhood.
The Girl on the Train begins on an incredibly weak note, containing a multitude of stale, tired movie tropes; flashbacks, strobe effect, voice-over and intertitles like “one month later”. In fact, the first fifteen minutes of the film are narrated to the audience. A lot of it could easily have been cut and instead shown visually, as most of the writing assumes the audience has the mental capacity of children. Exposition is rammed down the audience’s throat in a lazy, condescending way, and the characters are boring and unlikeable.
Girl plays into the ‘amnesia’ storyline, in which vital information is locked behind the main character’s inability to remember it. In this case, it is due to the protagonist’s coma-inducing alcoholism. In all honesty, I liked the notion of the main character being as dysfunctional as Rachel: a stalking, obsessed, and broken character. However, Blunt’s performance grated on me, and some of the low points of her acting are continually repeated in the form of more flashbacks and callbacks. What made her character interesting to me was lost at the hands of the film’s very one-dimensional antagonist during the climax, when some new points about her personality are revealed.
There are also flaws in the film’s logic. According to the script, the “intensely private” Megan enjoys nothing more than standing outside and kissing people in her underwear in plain view of anyone who cares to look. Are we also expected to believe that everyone that Rachel sees just happens to be standing outside or in front of a window at the exact moment the train passes by? The train itself is perhaps the slowest in existence, as the POV shots from the train windows track at a snails pace across the houses as the train passes by. The shots from inside the train show Tom’s house to be far closer than it actually is in the exterior shots, and Rachel makes the classic social faux pas of telling the person she suspects to be a cold-blooded murderer that she thinks so, which leads to a predictable conclusion.
The climax itself is executed poorly and embarrassingly, and is resolved very quickly and without consequence at all. In fact, its only purpose is to fill in the ‘missing piece’ in the protagonist’s memory and provide some sort of conclusion to the mystery that was present throughout the film. Having an antagonist, to me, only seemed like a means to an end, and didn’t impose any difference on the actual story. There doesn’t seem to be any legal repercussions for the climax at all, and the characters almost seem to be lauded by the police for what they did.
However, there are some redeeming qualities for this film, though they cannot hope to save the train wrecks that were the beginning and ending. One particular highlight for me was the soundtrack, moving from airy yet sinister grand piano to the dark drones signaling the arrival of the third act. There were also some moments where the acting shone through – though not many. Normally, I think Emily Blunt is a very capable actor (I loved her in Sicario), but in this case I think she was betrayed by the script. It doesnt matter how talented you are, if the dialogue is poorly written, it is impossible to sell your performance convincingly. The script certainly forgot about the ex’s new wife until her character became important to the story.
In conclusion, despite some good parts, the Girl on the Train is a totally unconvincing thriller that is laughably bad at building up any kind of stakes or tension at all. I would chalk up the failure of this film to the unimaginative and lazy way in which the production was handled, not to mention the weak editing and script.