One of the most anticipated literary adaptions of the year finally arrives, with a star-studded cast to boot. Unfortunately, for fans of Paula Hawkins’ book, despite the promising components, this is unlikely to live up to any expectations.
The film follows Emily Blunt as Rachel, an unemployed alcoholic, as she rides the train into New York and back each day in an attempt to hide the fact she was fired from her roommate. She watches the same couple each day as the train rumbles to a halt outside their home (incidentally just a few doors down from the home of her ex-husband).
She imagines their lives and stories, until one day the wife of the couple disappears and she feels compelled to reveal something she saw from the train, and subsequently gets herself further embroiled in the situation.
What unravels is not the tense psychological mystery you might be expecting, but instead more of a disjointed muddle, attempting to find a sense of coherence. The structure and story from the book itself does not lend itself easily to cinematic adaptation.
The film’s introduction takes the structure it does in the book – using title cards to signpost the three narratives from the perspectives of Rachel, Megan (the missing woman) and Anna (Rachel’s ex’s new wife). However, despite beginning this way, the film doesn’t follow the three narratives clearly enough throughout the rest of the story, losing this structure and leaving it to become a bit messy. There is a lot of information and exposition crammed into the opening, all laid out a little unnaturally and awkwardly in the accompanying narration. It doesn’t quite manage to grip you, but manages to incite some intrigue.
It is in the whodunit part of the story that the film loses a lot of its potential. The red herrings placed in the story are not planted firmly enough to be seen as real possibilities, weakening the mystery and thus reducing the suspense, as well as leaving some plot holes. The film also struggles to build up and sustain a tense atmosphere, its scenes instead often appearing as uninvolving. In part this is due to the difficulties in adapting the story as a lot of the mystery revolves around Rachel’s inability to remember events through her drunken haze. In the film these broken up memories are shown through cutaways and flashbacks, whose positioning breaks up any tension built up in a scene, causing any atmosphere to dissipate. There are also some odd lighting and colour choices, which stay away from clichés but don’t help to add to the lacking tension.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the cast’s acting. Blunt is the standout as Rachel, believably portraying someone broken and searching for a purpose, whilst doubting herself and her role in Megan’s disappearance. She is supported strongly by the entire ensemble, especially the four fellow principles, all helping to bring their characters to life. Even actors with more minor roles such as Alison Janney and Laura Prepon bring a great deal to the film, helping to flesh out the world. However, despite their best efforts, the characters are not explored a lot in general, leaving many of them a little underdeveloped.
As a whole, The Girl on the Train delivers a weaker version of what is promised. It probably won’t grip you but will hold your attention, drawn in by the story, but gives up its secrets a little too early and easily, which likely won’t satisfy your sense of intrigue.
Of course, if you haven’t read the book, you’ll likely enjoy the film more…as always seems to be the case.