I’m writing this review on a train. I looked up as the carriage sped between Kings Cross and Martin Place and saw a row of houses, in this case devoid of people. Imagine if there was someone standing there, as you went by, every day, twice a day. If you looked, how much would you learn? How much do you already know?
In Tate Taylor’s (The Help) adaptation of Paula Hawkins markedly successful novel, which from the earliest days of its publication has been interminably compared to Gone Girl, Rachel (Emily Blunt) is the titular voyeur. The ailing, alcoholic divorcee gazes intently each day at a handsome couple until one of them (Haley Bennet) vanishes, whereupon Rachel is drawn into the investigation of Megan’s disappearance as she and others begin to suspect her own involvement.
Prone to forgetfulness and timely flashbacks, with a narrator as unreliable as those in David Fincher’s 2015 masterpiece, The Girl on the Train packs none of Gone Girl’s gingerly wit nor even its own subtle strand of humour; Taylor opting instead for a very self-serious but by no means darker thriller.
The only actress on screen long enough to tease out any real sense of character, Emily Blunt is the best thing The Girl on the Train has going for it, boasting a performance more wide-ranging than any of her latest fare. Unusually, the female characters, including Alison Janney’s dogged investigator, are much more rounded than their male counterparts. In spite of this, each character, at least as adapted, remains relatively one-dimensional compared to Blunt’s Rachel, at least until their whims and motivations manage to turn in numerous nonsequitous heartbeats. Break-out Mission Impossible star Rebecca Ferguson has precious little to play with in a role that could easily have demanded more versatility had she been afforded the requisite screen time.
While the similarities to Gone Girl abound, not least of all the slowly-evolving, tempestuous relationships with the various male characters such as Megan’s shocked husband Scott (Luke Evans) and Rachel’s former husband Tom (Justin Theroux), The Girl on the Train is even more acutely similar to some of Hitchcock’s most iconic achievements. Fans of Vertigo will no doubt see parallels to the classic in the Gaslight–esque trailer, while the film’s very crux depends on Rear Window’s readily familiar scenario in which Rachel slowly accumulates knowledge of distant figures with whom she soon becomes obsessed.
Possessing none of the stylistic or innovative flourishes of its thematic predecessors, confusing time-cards re-situating the action to months before only dilute the tension and explain little that can otherwise be reasonably inferred. Largely ham-handed flashbacks look like they belong on second-rate prime-time serials rather than the type of tour-de-force cinema Taylor is so desperately trying to recreate.
One sequence early on involving a dream and a foiled abduction however was consummately rendered to such an extent that it appeared out of place in an otherwise standard sea of technique. Visually-arresting like no other moment in the film, save to an extent the penultimate sequence, the one instance when Taylor tries to go for the heightened sense of realism which best complemented so much of the story and so many of its precursors was regretfully not emulated throughout.
It’s not entirely fair to compare The Girl on a Train to Gone Girl, or even Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy with which it also shares similarities. Taylor’s adaptation is its own picture with its own distinct story, which for all intents and purposes is a compelling film but never as a great an achievement as it so earnestly strived to be.
The Girl on a Train is in cinemas now