Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Alison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow
Run Time: 112 mins
‘The Girl On The Train’ is the adaptation of the novel of the same name penned by Paula Hawkins that was released last year and held the top spot of the Uk Hardback Book Chart for 20 weeks, breaking records. Rightfully so, it’s a cracking book and it’s extremely well-written and develops its characters really well. Less than 2 years later, a film adaptation has already been made and has a star-studded cast comprising of Emily Blunt, who has always seemed like a perfect fit for Rachel, an alcoholic individual who has divorced from her husband, Tom, after he cheated on her and now has a child with his new wife, Anna. Rachel has lost her job and rides the trains all day to try and find something to do and in the mean time idolises a young couple, Megan and Scott, who she passes by on the train every single day. However, when Megan disappears and Rachel was on the scene and blacked out, a deep mystery and investigation into her disappearance ensues and the narrative is filled with twists and turns. I must say in the run-up to the film’s release, I was a little apprehensive as the film has changed location to America which is a bit of a shame as the book is quintessentially British and I would have loved to have seen this narrative take place in Oxfordshire as opposed to the luxurious houses that these characters now live in and it now taking place in New York City. I also have some reservations on some of the film’s cast, in particular Rebecca Ferguson as Anna and Luke Evans as Scott, both decent actors in their own right but I just can’t see them playing these multi-dimensional, conflicted characters. Finally, the choice of director Tate Taylor is an unnatural fit to the material but that said, he is very respectable and generally reliable. Many comparisons have been made to the Gillian Flynn novel and the subsequent 2014 film adaptation of ‘Gone Girl’ which was a brilliant film and was directed by David Fincher, an auteur in his own right and judging from the trailers, it seems as if Taylor has tried to emulate Fincher’s style but Tate Taylor is certainly by no means in the same league as David Fincher. So does the film manage to stand out on its own and offer a faithful, thrilling adaptation of the novel or it this just a cheap knock-off off an exemplary novel?
The answer lies somewhere in between and I have to say I am somewhat conflicted on my judgements on ‘The Girl On The Train’. On the one hand, it is very faithful to the novel and always fairly entertaining (but never gripping) and features a couple of great performances, both Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett who manage to just about hold the film together. On the other hand, it is lazily directed and scripted, features some pretty awful performances, has numerous goofs despite being a fairly big film, develops most of its characters pretty poorly and the cinematography isn’t particularly refined. It is a middling adaptation of a great novel – an always watchable film but crushingly disappointing in parts.
What made the novel really work was its carefully constructed and developed characters and how that has translated onto the screen with the performances is as mentioned, a mixed bag. Both Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett are wonderful here – Emily Blunt in particular was in my opinion, always a great pick for Rachel and despite being pregnant during filming, portrays a convincing alcoholic and is a character of multiple layers. Although Bennett’s character, Megan is fairly one-dimensional, she also is brilliant here and is both slimy and seductive and makes an interesting juxtaposition to Blunt’s Rachel. The final unreliable narrator in the novel, Anna, is portrayed here by Rebecca Ferguson and my initial reservations were correct as she is downright unwatchable here – she is not convincing at all and for goodness sake, if you’re going to be in a film, dedicate yourself to it and don’t wear a terrible wig! Ferguson is one-note, has no chemistry with any of the film’s characters and feels aggressively out of place in the film. I also had reservations on Luke Evans’ casting as Scott and initially Jared Leto was supposed to play this role before he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and although Evans is still not a perfect match, his performance is serviceable. Justin Theroux also is serviceable as Tom and Édgar Ramírez just plays himself as Dr Kamal Abdic which is fine. Allison Janney also gives a very poor performance as the detective in charge of the investigation in an expanded role from the novel and there is a scene where I kid you not, interrogates Rachel in a toilet which is extremely unprofessional and really threw me out momentarily from the film and made me question what I had just seen.
Another big problem the film has is its poor script and lazy direction. The script, penned by Erin Cressida Wilson who was responsible for the atrocity that was ‘Men, Women and Children’, doesn’t gel together and is quite clichéd and overbearing. I mentioned that Tate Taylor was an awkward fit to this material and this has resulted to be the case. At times, it seems he is channeling David Fincher’s seductive, heavily stylised direction of ‘Gone Girl’ and at other times, it does feel like his own work and does have a couple of flashes back to his previous work. It just all feels a bit sloppy and doesn’t feel like he has put his own stamp on the material. The film is never gripping or particularly intelligent and it’s quite short as well for what is quite a meaty book in terms of narrative – the beginning is a bit of a slog and the final reveal comes way too early. Also as a director, surely you check over your film before releasing it – there are numerous goofs here that are blindingly obvious and threw me out of the film.
Danny Elfman’s score is quite interesting and feels very uncharacteristic of him – if I hadn’t have known beforehand he had scored it and I was asked to have a guess, he wouldn’t be someone who comes to mind. The cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, someone who is normally pretty good, is quite tacky here and the film has quite a cheap look to it in places.
Now although this review may seem rather damning of the film, ‘The Girl On The Train’ is always watchable and I was never bored by it and Blunt and Bennett really do help to carry the film. For a film that has this many issues to it, it is testament to these two actresses performances and the strength of Hawkins’ novel. But this film should have been so much more – it should have been more thoughtfully casted, it needs a better crew and script. These are all issues, particularly the script, that should have been noticed early on but somehow the script got given the ok and it has resulted in a middling adaptation. Although this will almost certainly never happen, wouldn’t it be great if there was a more carefully constructed remake with a different director more suited to the material, a stronger scriptwriter. Keep Blunt, Bennett and even Ramirez but then pick out a better cast for the rest of the characters. That is something I would really like to see and would supplement Paula Hawkins’ gripping novel rather than this mixed bag. Overall, by no means a bad film but not a particularly memorable one either with a whole host of issues.