girl on the train review
© Entertainment One

The Girl On The Train

2016
Dir: Tate Taylor 

Loco Motive

To those who don’t know the enormously successful book, The Girl On The Train’s tagline is enough of an engine to pull in the casual onlooker by itself. “What Did She See?”. As well as questioning what appalling crime she witnessed, it also implies the potential for killer twist in the ambiguity of her interpretation. Turns out it’s more a case of what did she do. Furthermore, what can she remember. If anything…

Every day Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes to work by train along the banks of the Hudson River. Every day she tries (and fails) to resist her obsession with a couple of the households whose gardens draw down to one picturesque stretch of waterside rail track. But this is not just idle nosiness. Soon it’s clear she used to be deeply involved in the lives of those she’s desperately trying to glimpse. She used to live in one of those houses, married to one of the inhabitants. As we assemble her story through flashback, it also becomes clear she used to have a terrible drink problem. She’s plagued by a history of blackouts, unable to account for the numerous times she’s lost control, become violent, or woken up in a bruised state, wondering, through the pounding headache, what outrageous transgression she’s committed now.

An extrapolating web of intrigue unfolds involving her ex’s new family. And their nanny. And the nanny’s boyfriend (a gruff Luke Evans). And the counsellor the nanny runs to when said boyfriend starts getting a little bit too controlling. A counsellor who’s now being asked to provide more than just an understanding ear…

You at least get the feeling that the novel is a quality source. One, presumably, with time to develop the characters, explore the boundaries of their relationships, and ground them in something resembling real life. That is not what happens here. This congested adaptation feels too contrived, too stagey. One that leaves you with the feeling you perhaps should have opted for the original written platform.

At its heart is a reliably fine performance from Emily Blunt, as someone regretfully struggling in the grip of such a mundanely destructive addiction. But stuffing as much into the run-time as a packed commuter carriage, The Girl On The Train tries to set up, and maintain, a constant tone of knife-edge tension …for the entire length of the film. The tricks and motifs of high drama soon lose impact when stretched to such an unremitting, tedious degree. As a result it feels like a TV melodrama on a bigger budget. Over-acted. Over-wrought. Over, but not soon enough. Occasionally the camera lingers uncomfortably on the female form. It may be a clumsy attempt to offer some kind of hint or misdirection, but it just feels queasy and uneasy.

And when that twist is finally revealed (the one we’ve been expecting since before the movie even started thanks to that tagline), there is moderate satisfaction to be had. But only in the most perfunctory, equation-balancing way. Yet just when you’re enjoying the meagre gratification of having those plot strands tied up, the denouement offers the most heavy-handed symbol of redemption. A character with artistic ambition but poor talent throughout can suddenly draw like Rembrandt the minute they’ve put the whole sorry episode behind them. This is the point I wished I’d never boarded this faltering locomotion picture. It’s a squandered opportunity to power to a fulfilling destination. One without the conviction to depart from the standard gauge rails of schmaltzy potboiler. Let this blunt vehicle shunt past. Ah, the pulling power of a good tagline.

★ ★

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