A tastes great, less filling, David Fincher-esque flick. DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment’s The Girl on the Train directed by Tate Taylor and starring Emily Blunt is the much anticipated film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name written by Paula Hawkins. With a slow windup and quick delivery, the suspense thriller plays off as a knockoff combination of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Fincher’s Gone Girl, and George Cukor’s Gaslight. Despite the wild success of the novel, this film adaptation appears to have jumped the tracks. In fact, fans of the novel may find that this translation from page to screen is a bumpy ride. The film is not without its high points; the plot is certainly intriguing and Blunt’s portrayal of the protagonist is excellent; however, her outstanding performance is simply not enough to carry the weight of an otherwise flawed film. The film fails to truly create that sense of dread and heighten the anxiety levels of the audience. There were many missed opportunities to tighten up the writing during the windup and spend more time on a successful nail-biting punch during the third act. It’s one of those films that feels like Act I is 2/3 of the movie with Acts II/III being 1/6 each. Lots of verbal exposition when exposition through showing would have been more effective. Don’t get me wrong; it was a fun suspense thriller and the plot twist and turning point from Act II to III was quite the shocker; but, the film just never seemed to move beyond the surface level.
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is not adapting to life as a divorcee very well. She has a pronounced drinking problem and cannot seem to hold a job. Rides the train into New York City from the countryside everyday, passing her old neighborhood. Starring into not only her old house but the house of a couple she feels are the embodiment of love, Rachel develops an unhealthy obsession with the characters that appear outside of the window as sh narrates their lives. When she learns that the young woman who lives in the house two doors up from where she used to live, has gone missing, she place herself in the midst of the investigation. Not having dealt with her own sordid past, Rachel begins to obsess over the mystery because of the empathy she feels for the missing girl. Once the authorities feel that Rachel has crossed the line too many times, they begin to look her direction. Determined to solve the case of the missing girl, Rachel must put together puzzle pieces that she never thought she would have to face again.
If I had to sum up the film adaption of The Girl on the Train, I would concisely put it this way: under-developed. From the locations themselves to the writing (screenplay) to the plot and characters, this mystery-thriller-suspense movie fails to impact the audience and truly elicit a strong emotional response. Tapping into emotions and affecting anxiety levels is paramount for suspense-thrillers. After such a long, drawn-out wind up and the rushed showdown, this film does not live up to the hype that the novel generated. Having not read the novel, I cannot comment on differences or even how the movie could have been done better; but screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson could have done a better of job of creative a cinematic story fit for the silver screen. The flaws of the film so not stop with the writing, but director Tate Taylor’s vision, for the best-seller, should be checked because it appears as though he may need glasses. If it was not for Blunt’s commitment to the character of Rachel, the film would have had very little entertainment value. This is one of those films that was saved by attaching excellent talent.
This film falls into the same sub-genre as Gone Girl. But, what made Gone Girl so successful was the exceptional direction from David Fincher and simply the fact that author Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay. If an author can be trained to write the screenplay of the film adaption of their literary work, then that is always the best approach because they know the characters and plot better than anyone. Fincher also includes many WTF moments and treats the camera more than lens through which to witness a visual story but creates magic that takes the audience out of the threats and transports them into the movie. The Girl on the Train has a great premise and intriguing plot. The foundation IS there for a great movie adaptation. The writing not only doesn’t do the book justice, from what I have read, but fails to create a cinematic experience as well.
Other than Rachel, the rest of the cheaters are two-dimensional. We are given just enough information to make them mildly interesting, but the character development just isn’t there. Much like the detective in Gone Girl was as interesting to follow as the main cast, Detective Riley should have been just as well developed for this film. Rachel’s ex-husband, his wife, their nanny, and the nanny’s husband have the makings of a cast of characters filled with lies, deceit, betrayal, dark secrets, and intrigue (and to some extent, that comes across in the movie); however, all those elements are touched on but never truly fleshed out. Do those elements have a place in the plot of the film? Yes. But, do they play a dynamic a role as they could have? Not particularly. Most everything in the film is very surface level. All the makings are there for a film that could be nearly as thrilling as Gone Girl, but it’s all superficial. When location scouting for a film that relies upon houses, transportation, and proximity that are intricate to the plot, it is important to treat them AS cast. The two main houses and the train in this movie almost feel like they were selected out of convenience. Nothing about the locations or train grabbed me or generated a significant emotional response. However, I liked the proximity of the train to the houses and how the lake is on one side and the neighborhood on the other.
If you’re looking for a fun suspense-thriller to watch this weekend, then this one may fit the bill. But, you won’t get nearly the ‘train’ ride that you experienced in Gone Girl. Emily Bunt demonstrates a dynamic acting prowess compared to other characters that she has brought to life. Whether you choose to watch this film in a local cinema near you or wait for it to be on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, or HBO, the experience will be the same. At the end of the day, it’s a good movie but a poor film.