Based on the best-selling potboiler by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train was a movie where expectations were high and the hype-train surrounding it was big. Not Batman v Superman or Star Wars big, but still pretty colossal. The marketing campaign was literally everywhere, people thought this film was going to be one of the best novel adaptations ever, as well as one of the best movie mysteries released in the past few years. There were even comparisons made to Gone Girl and Rear Window because of similar themes to those films, but nevertheless, this was one of the most anticipated movies of 2016, so naturally the payoff was going to be huge, right?
Well, to be honest, this felt like a made-for-TV drama that you’d normally see on Channel 5 on a Sunday night that just so happens to be given the Hollywood sheen over it. There is little excitement, shock or suspense about it, and instead, the film is ultimately uninvolving emotionally. That’s not to say it’s terrible, it’s just not very good filmmaking wise, and that is probably down to director, Tate Taylor. This story had a lot of potential and promise backing it, especially given the extremely talented cast, but the crucial problem is that it’s just executed in a very dull fashion, which doesn’t suit the story they are trying to tell. There aren’t any stylistic choices that can be seen as truly cinematic, and the direction is somewhat flat as a result, detracting from the story instead of adding to it and just makes it all look televisual. There is nothing in it to distinguish it as one director’s film; with films like Gone Girl or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, those felt like David Fincher movies. Here though, there’s no particular style or flair here to make it feel like as if it was a Tate Taylor film, and it all feels very workman or pedestrian like.
However, the cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen is gorgeous, capturing the tone, mood and feel of the story, whilst using to distinguish the three main female characters in the story (e.g. the visuals look distorted and off-angle to represent Rachel’s drunken state). Also complementing the atmosphere was Danny Elfman’s unconventional score being unlike any music Elfman has ever scored before when he’s used to working with Tim Burton. In terms of performances, the film largely falls on Emily Blunt’s shoulders, and she absolutely crushes it as Rachel. It’s a very complex and emotionally driven performance that’s unlike anything we’ve seen from Blunt before whether it was the likes of The Devil Wears Prada or Edge of Tomorrow. It’s convincingly raw and ambiguous as she perfectly portrays a person who’s damaged, conflicted and helpless.
Blunt is a true powerhouse in this film, but equally rivalling her in terms of performance and complexity is rising star Haley Bennett as the mysterious Megan. After making a huge breakout from films like The Hole, Kaboom, Hardcore Henry and The Magnificent Seven, Bennett really sinks her teeth into the alluring role of Megan, and it’s especially thanks to her that she’s able to manipulate our perception of her character, as well as her image. Megan is a character who is devilishly devious and driven by deep sexual urges and desires thanks to one bad day in her troubled past, and Bennett truly does justice in embodying that character, and adding real bite and venom to her mercurial turn.
Rebecca Furguson is a talented actress who has delivered outstanding performances in things like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and TV’s The White Queen, and while she does a solid performance in this film, her character was somewhat uninvolving. That’s no fault to Ferguson, but Anna was an emotionally vapid character that makes some questionable decisions throughout. Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow pop up but they are utterly wasted in their respective roles, while the same could also be said of Luke Evans and Édgar Ramírez. Justin Theroux, however, is probably the weakest link of the entire cast, with his character being poorly developed without any clear motivation driving him, and Theroux himself looks as though he’s just sleepwalking his way through the film’s entirety.
In the end, The Girl on the Train is something of a mixed bag. There are some positives to found, whether it’s the cinematography, the music or the outstanding performances by both Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett. Plus, you have to give Erin Cressida Wilson for attempting to wrestle the basic, crucial elements of the source novel down to a singular film, so you do feel that they actually kind of tried to make it a great film. However, what lets it down is its pedestrian direction, some poorly developed characters saddled with underused actors, which results in a somewhat emotionally unengaging film. It’s definitely not as terrible as some critics have made it out to be, but nevertheless, this was a film that had good marketing, some excellent performances and gorgeous visuals, but very little else.
Dir: Tate Taylor
Scr: Erin Cressida Wilson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow
Prd: Marc Platt
DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Music: Danny Elfman
Run time: 112 mins
The Girl on the Train is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.