Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Based on the thrilling debut novel from author Paula Hawkins, that quickly shook the world with its themes reminiscent of the 2012 psychological mystery Gone Girl and its unique methods of narrative, The Girl on the Train jumped almost immediately to the big screen, employing a dynamic cast and a well-versed director to inject a new life into the best-selling novel. Beginning as a steadily enjoyable adaptation, with actress Emily Blunt leading the show in this twisted tale of tragedy and deception, The Girl on the Train was met with a handful of obstacles, ultimately crippling its chance of becoming anything groundbreaking in the realm of book adaptations. 


What happens when the sins of your past come back to haunt you? For Rachel Watson (Blunt), her sins don't concern her as long as she's blackout drunk with a half-empty bottle of whiskey cradled in her bruised hands. For housewife Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson), her past sins show up in the form of her husband's (Justin Theroux) ex-wife, who just so happens to be Watson. For young couple Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett, Luke Evans), their sins quickly infiltrate their "perfect" marriage, destroying the love Megan once had for her husband. Witnessing all of this from the blurred image of reality that is the window of a train, Rachel Watson sees a life she lost, a life she yearns to have, and a dark realization that she is far from ready to see. Diving into the affairs of strangers and past lovers, harboring their darkest secrets and crafting a deadly bond between her and them, it's only a matter of time before Watson digs up something she was never meant to find.

Ever since Gillian Flynn's enthralling 2012 novel Gone Girl released -- two years later spawning the darkly captivating film adaptation that offered up a grisly yet sharp-edged tale of domestic abuse and murder -- I've been eagerly awaiting the next dramatic book adaptation to put me on the edge of my seat. When I heard about British author Paula Hawkins' debut novel, The Girl on the Train, I had a strong feeling this might be what I've been waiting for. While I never picked up the book, the film wasn't too far behind, offering me and other moviegoers a cinematic peek inside what made the book such a worldwide sensation. Looking at the film now, after settling in for two hours of melodramatic intrigue and lots and lots of narration, I was left both highly satisfied but also somewhat underwhelmed. While its always-shifting narrative may work to parallel the gripping style of Gone Girl, and its characters were fascinating to watch to a certain degree, The Girl on the Train didn't leave me with the kind of excitement and payoff I had been anticipating.


That being said, before I get to the cast of the film, one of the most pressing issues I had with this film had to be its innovative but unorthodox narrative style. Now before you go hating on me for hating on the plot and thematic style of the film and the book, I will say right off that I didn't dislike how the film presented its story, I just think how it was approached could have been perfected a bit more. With Hawkins' tale blending the perspectives of three different women into one collective story, the method of tackling this kind of story can be done many ways, but ultimately all that really matters is if it's done right, or done completely wrong. In the case of Girl of the Train, it was done in a way that both worked on a number of levels, allowing for the occasional "unreliable narrator" that Gone Girl employed so well, but also managed to leave some things in the air. While the film's plot does follow a generally simple plot, there were times when bits and pieces of the plot were lost to the audience. While the film does do an effective job at presenting its trio of perspectives in a timely manner, the film stumbled a number of times as it failed in its ability to fully establish key details, clear character motivations, and other elements that would've helped tie the narrative together.

With unclear or somewhat underdeveloped character motivations present, this presented both a noticeable issue in the film, but also an intriguing essence of mystery surrounding each morally-ambiguous character. In terms of performances, the female members of the cast took the throne, tossing in typical archetypes of the housewife or the mistress, but doing it with such whimsical elegance that it was fascinating to watch. While Emily Blunt's emotionally-scarred alcoholic stole most scenes in the film with her border-line melodramatic performance that had the slightest hint of unsettling emotion, the other leading ladies of Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett also shined. While the tale may focus primarily on Blunt's deteriorating character, Bennett's heart-broken and emotionally-unstable babysitter-turned-mistress presented a unique tangent for the film, leaving her devilish mark on nearly every character before becoming the film's ultimate mystery.


While every character isn't broken down to their emotional core as much as Blunt or Bennett, the film never truly loses its pizzazz because of this. Yes, while both its female and male characters do take on stereotypical roles of the cheating husband, the drunk who destroyed her marriage, the concerned widower with a hidden agenda, and so on, The Girl on the Train does do a decent job at keeping its characters in line. Yes, while the film may seem like a cheaply-made soup opera at times, or at least a mediocre Lifetime movie, its characters never fall into the realm where they're much too predictable to enjoy.

Overall, while its enthralling plot of murder and adultery may not give anything too groundbreaking and new to the realm of suspenseful cinema, and its characters may run along a thin line between captivating and cliche, The Girl on the Train was, to say the least, an enjoyable romance-thriller that didn't take itself too seriously. While the book may be a global phenomenon, the film I fear may not hold up against other superior psychological dramas like that of Gone Girl. Held together mostly by Emily Blunt's phenomenal performance, and a few wicked twists here and there, The Girl on the Train was a faithful adaptation with a flawed final execution.


I gave The Girl on the Train a 6 out of 10 for its entertaining story of well-crafted thrills, its flawed attempt at tackling a trio of narrators, and its chilling but borderline-melodramatic performance by Emily Blunt.

Speaking of Mrs. Blunt, stay tuned at the end of the month for my breakdown of the many films from the beautiful and versatile actress. From her sci-fi adventures in films like Edge of Tomorrow and Looper to her breakout role in The Devil Wears Prada, I'll list some of my favorites from Blunt, as well as some forgettable roles I may need to watch again.           

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