"I saw her, I saw her from the train."
The process of adapting a book into a film is a more complex one than most people would think. Truly successful adaptations are those that understand the unique potential of each medium and work on the strengths and weaknesses of the story to suit each separate art form. Details are often lost in the process and that can be frustrating for many fans of the original material, but most of the time it is necessary to conform one medium to another. So where does ‘The Girl on the Train’ fall in this complex world of adaptation?
An alcoholic divorcee (Emily Blunt) lives vicariously by fantasising about the lives of the people she views in their seemingly perfect suburban houses during her daily commute to the city on a train. However, one day she stumbles upon a dark mystery that leaves her unable to distinguish between truth and fiction.
If there is one thing I can immediately say about ‘The Girl on the Train’ it is that an actress of Emily Blunt’s talent is wasted on a movie like this. Her performance is by a long stretch the strongest aspect of the film, one that never fails to convey the broken and fractured nature of her character and establishes her unreliable state of mind that invokes a greater sense of mystery and involvement from the audience when we have to rely on her own point of view for the plot to proceed. The last part of that statement was undoubtedly the intended effect the movie would have, but sadly the plot and emotional weight of this film are so thematically lacking that Blunt only serves as a lonesome spark of brightness in an otherwise dull and cold film.
Despite a strong and intriguing opening ‘The Girl on the Train’ spends far too long merely building up to the central mystery that is supposed to underpin the film. The pacing drags and feels like a dead weight on the film as it heads towards a destination we already have a rough outline of, only for it to stumble straight into that plot and thunder across it so quickly that it rapidly becomes difficult to keep track of what is happening or form a genuine attachment to any of the people involved in it. So in summary I spent half of the movie waiting for something to happen, and then for the other half I was struggling to keep up.
Another unfortunate result of this breakneck pace is that when later plot points have to be revealed they come across as cheap and even unintentionally humorous. Too few of the revelations are thoroughly established and as a result later revelations never feel genuinely earned, leaving me with the impression that they were added as an afterthought or the result of the writers painting themselves into a corner rather than a subtly laid mystery. The fact that the film is so clearly ploughing for shock value in the irrational and often inconsistent way each character acts oly makes things worse.
Despite having some impressive cinematography the direction of the film feels completely disjointed form whatever is was trying to convey in the first place. Regardless of the awkward plot turns and shallow characterisations, Tate Taylor’s direction still feels clunky and misplaced here, rarely inciting a sense of tension or suspense within the story. If anything it only made me appreciate the mastery of other thrillers with a similar premise or set up and how superbly they were directed, from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ to David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’. Even when not being compared to greatness of that calibre though Taylor’s direction for ‘The Girl on the Train’ still falls frustratingly flat.
So neither aspect is fully satisfying on its own, and when jelled together both the direction and writing somehow end up detracting even more from one another. It only serves to emphasise the uneven nature of the story as a whole and with such over simplified characterisations it becomes increasingly difficult to want to put the effort into keeping track of this wildly convoluted plot. None of the characters evoke empathy or any sense of emotional detachment and with the scattershot transitions only making the whole process more difficult I found myself frequently questioning why I even tried to care about anything that was transpiring on the screen.
Tensionless, weightless and emotionally empty, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is a flatly directed bore.