Review: The Girl on the Train tops the box office but fails to wow viewers

Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train, the film adaptation of Paula Hawkin’s 2015 novel, has just enjoyed its US theatrical release on October 7th and has taken the top box office spot in both the States and the United Kingdom. However, despite its success, the film has received a mixed response, with many fans of the original novel disappointed due to the significant changes made in the adaptation, such as moving the story from London to New York. The most significant criticism that can be made of The Girl on the Train, though, is its failure to build and maintain suspense, since only the very last section of the film can be considered exhilarating. Fans of psychological drama will be happy with the film’s depiction of flimsy marital bliss and unravelling minds but the film markets itself as a thriller and, in this respect, it fails to deliver.

Possibly Hawkin’s novel was not the best choice for an on-screen adaptation; reading an unreliable narrator is far more narratively satisfying and feels less like “cheating” than being shown scenes in a film only to be later told they may not have happened. Furthermore, while the movie tries to replicate the novel’s changes in perspective through inter-titles, this often feels clunky and unnecessary and a much better idea would have been to rely on Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s varied and adventurous cinematography, which does a far more effective job of conveying the tone of each perspective. However, Christensen does use a lot of extreme close-ups, seemingly not always for significant narrative reasons, and this can become frustrating as the film goes on.

What the film might lack in suspense, though, it makes up for in the radical potential of its message. Gender roles in relationships have changed immensely over the decades and yet the film, particularly its climax, has a lot to say about the ways in which society has failed to progress, with Observer reviewer Mark Kermode calling it a “modern Stepford”. The film follows three female narrators – Rachel, Megan and Anna – all dissatisfied with their own lives and deeply envious of other women but all ultimately suffering in very similar ways. Indeed, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the film’s leading actress, Emily Blunt, commented on the film’s rebuke of societal double standards, saying “A woman is a drunk, a whore, whereas the guy's like a partyer, a player… There’s so much judgement on women”.

"Emily Blunt" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by gdcgraphics

Perhaps best known for cheerier movies such as My Summer of Love and The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt nonetheless does a fantastic job as the film’s bleary, alcoholic and unstable protagonist, Rachel. While it could be said that the gorgeous Blunt was an odd choice for a character that’s supposed to be sexually unappealing according to the novel, she manages to pull it off, making Rachel sympathetic despite her increasingly disturbed behaviour. Rebecca Ferguson gives a similarly impressive and nuanced performance as Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, but other performances seem less believable, possibly constrained by dialogue that is at times stilted and artificial.

The Girl on the Train suffers, at times, from the difficulty of juggling three perspectives and fails to live up to the intense drama suggested by its trailer. That said, it at least has something significant to say about the relationships between women in a world where they cannot always rely on men and, at only one hour and 45 minutes running time, is worth a watch just for the poignancy of Blunt’s performance.

The Version