Here’s a few random things that I generally have a lot of appreciation for: actress Emily Blunt, actor Justin Theroux, and thrillers released in the month of October based off novels that have the word “Girl” in their title. At the intersection of all these lies “The Girl On The Train”, based on the book of the same name by Paula Hawkins and directed by Tate Taylor. Despite its fulfillment of my arbitrary criteria though, Taylor’s adaptation never rises above the level of merely competent.
Blunt stars as the title character Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee who spends most of her days commuting to and from New York City by train. On this commute, she passes by the house of her ex-husband Tom (Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), as well as their neighbors, Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), whom Rachel considers to be the perfect embodiment of the love that she lost. But on one of her trips, Rachel sees Megan being intimate with someone other than her husband and ends up confronting her in a dangerously drunken stupor. Rachel then wakes up covered in blood with little memory of what happened the previous night, and later finds out that Megan has disappeared and she’s the number one suspect in the case.
While the scenario is compelling enough, it’s mostly conveyed through sloppy narration, Blunt staring out a train window, people talking to their therapists and Taylor believing that making his actors perform as bleak and depressed as possible is the same as actual drama. The film contains almost no moments of levity (unless you count the climax, which had some people in my showing snickering to themselves) and devolves into melodrama by the end. The mystery is also weak and easy to figure out, which is saying something coming from a guy who is generally awful at solving movie mysteries.
Concerning the criteria listed above, Blunt is undeniably the shining star of the film as the miserable former shell of a woman that is Rachel. She spends all of the film out of makeup looking as unglamorous as can be, and more than conveys the exhaustion and mental anguish that her character is experiencing. Theroux, who’s done incredible work on HBO’s criminally underrated “The Leftovers,” doesn’t come off as well, failing to bring the levels of complexity or depth that a character like his might have in a better film.
The third criteria? Well, that’s a more than obvious nod to 2014’s “Gone Girl,” indeed another thriller that was released in October based on a book that had “Girl” in the title. It’s probably unfair to stack the two against each other since one is so obviously superior, but so often “The Girl On The Train” feels like it was designed as a more bland, less interesting copy of David Fincher’s riveting and compelling adaptation. The only place where the two have a chance at stacking up against each other are with the strength of their female leads. Besides that, “Train” is just an inconsequential mystery story, whereas “Gone Girl” is a supremely well-crafted thriller that takes on the topics like the psychology of marriage and media culture, hits viewers with a hell of a second act plot twist, and remembers to inject some dark humor and life into its often convoluted and morbid story. Is this as unfair as comparing “Independence Day” to “2001: A Space Odyssey”? Probably, but “The Girl On The Train” is so obviously trying to ape its more interesting, successful rival, from its themes, attempt at a tense, unnerving score and even its period of release.
It’s far from a trainwreck, but Taylor’s thriller doesn’t bring much either interesting or memorable to the table, despite the fine work of Blunt.