THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
By Nathan Evans
As a free time film critic I do my best to remain impartial during the movies I review. Whether it’s horror films or romantic comedies (two genres I’m not much of a fan of) or dramas and action films (two genres I obviously love), I try to put every film on a level playing field so I can judge everything fairly. With that said, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is film that clearly wasn’t made for me.
The film, based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins, follows a sad, drunken woman named Rachel. Rachel, an infertile, recent divorcee, has become obsessed with a good looking, clothes challenged married couple who she catches glimpses of while passing by their home on the train during her daily commute. She constructs a version of their lives for herself, and one day, when she sees something that shatters that perfect image she’s constructed, she gets too close and the woman who she is so enamored with goes missing. Seeking answers to the hand she may or may not have played in the woman’s disappearance while in a drunken stupor, she involves herself with the missing woman’s husband and falls deeper into their sordid, imperfect relationship, a relationship that may hit closer to home than she once thought.
‘The Girl on the Train’ presents itself as a big budget Lifetime film right off the bat. Somehow, even while playing a drunken mess, Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast look like Covergirl and A&F models and they’re always shot in the soft hues reminiscent of your grandmother’s favorite soap opera. Director Tate Taylor even seems enamored with undercranking his camera in order to simulate the haze Blunt finds herself in throughout the film; a technique used and abused by every t.v. movie ever made in the history of ever. But somewhere early down the line, the film takes a turn and quickly becomes intriguing enough to hold an audiences attention; at least until it remembers it was a Lifetime film all along and returns to its roots.
The formulaic, often improbable, proceedings are helped along by a solid cast. Blunt does her best to become a household name here and she turns in an impressive performance as the film’s alcoholic protagonist. Justin Theroux feels appropriately slimy as her former husband and ‘The Magnificent Seven’s’ Haley Bennett perfectly exudes the wounded sensuality necessary to entice both the audience and the film’s characters. Unfortunately the film ends up wasting most of its cast (including ‘Orange is the New Black’s Laura Prepon and Luke Evans) and it’s biggest heavy hitter, Allison Janney, as the detective who we’re told is investigating the case, but seems to just be letting events play out until the film resolves itself.
In an attempt to disguise the well worn formula at play here, the film employs a non-linear narrative that is initially successful at drawing one in, but ultimately fails when it becomes a cheap method for the filmmakers to reveal their plot. For much of the film the device is tethered to Rachel and her fragmented memory, but it ditches the concept by the end to flat out tell us what happens to the missing woman the plot revolves around. It’s even utilized to insert a horrific, emotionally manipulative moment between the missing woman and her therapist that does nothing to add to the mystery at hand.
Despite its Lifetime trappings, the film does manage to wring out some tense moments from its denouement. It seems it does have something genuine to say about domestic abuse, both physical and psychological, but whatever the message, it’s hidden beneath cheap storytelling tricks and cookie cutter character revelations.
Ultimately ‘The Girl on the Train’ is a deeply flawed psychological thriller made for a very specific audience, but it’s one supported by a strong cast and a few intense moments. The people interested in this movie will no doubt come away satisfied, and shockingly, the people who aren’t may find things to be entertained by too, but both will most likely forget all about it by the end of the week. The film is pure fluff, but let’s remember, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5