The Girl on the Train
Never Quite Reaches a Full Head of Steam

A thriller based on a best-selling novel with the word “girl” in the title, the new film The Girl on the Train is virtually impossible to think about without instantly comparing it to 2014’s Gone Girl.  Certainly the filmmakers behind the new movie are hoping that the film finds similar success as its predecessor, which earned its star Rosamund Pike an Oscar nomination.  And certainly each of the movie’s three lead female performances warrant consideration, especially Emily Blunt as the titular girl on the train.  The rest of the film, however, leaves something to be desired.

Emily Blunt as Rachel in The Girl on the TrainOur introduction to Blunt’s Rachel is one of the movie’s cleverest moments.  We see her riding the train as she explains to us in a voice-over about how she has come to focus on a specific couple who lives in one of the houses her train passes each day.  To her, they are the perfect couple.  She articulates to us whom she imagines these people to be. At first, she seems your average everyday commuter until a mother with a child sits next to her and we hear her speak out loud for the first time, slurring and stumbling over her words.  It turns out that Rachel is a depressed divorcee who drinks vodka straight from a water bottle while riding the train into the city for a job she was fired from a full year earlier.  She also stalks her ex-husband and his new family who live just down the street from the perfect couple she was describing to us moments earlier.  The woman in Rachel’s perfect couple is their nanny.

One day while riding by on the train, Rachel observes this woman—named Megan—embracing a man who is not her husband.  This infuriates Rachel, whose husband had previously cheated on her with the woman to whom he is now married.  When Rachel sees Megan walking alone, she drunkenly follows her to a tunnel where she passes out.  The next morning she wakes up covered in blood, hearing reports that Megan has gone missing, and remembering nothing of what happened the night before.  From this moment on the movie becomes a mystery about what happened to Megan.  Did Rachel witness a murder?  Was she involved?  If not her, who?

The mystery is there and had me guessing throughout, but the end reveal feels a little too generic; instead of shock, the reaction it inspires is more “well, that makes sense.”  There are a couple of revelations that could be called “twists,” but none of these leave much of an impression.  To make one comparison to Gone Girl, there are no real moments in this movie that chill you to the bone, whereas there are a couple of scenes from Gone Girl that still bring on a chill when thinking about them two years later.

What is most troubling for this thriller, though, is that there is very little suspense built up as the movie moves toward its conclusion.  It is also not very interesting from a visual standpoint.  The lack of suspense and visual intrigue leave the movie feeling flat and bland.  It sucks the thrill right out of the thriller that the movie is supposed to be.

The movie also gets lost in its own structure.  The story is told from present day with loads of flashbacks.  Sometimes these flashbacks are labeled with “6 months ago,” “3 months ago,” etc., but other flashbacks just happen without warning.  It is also sometimes hard to tell whether we are still in the flashback or if we have been returned back to present day.

The movie’s strong point is certainly the performances, in particular those of Blunt, Haley Bennett as Megan, and Rebecca Ferguson as Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband.  It’s a different kind of performance for Blunt, whom we have gotten used to seeing in tough gal roles like those in Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow. She is vulnerable in The Girl on the Train and she also plays a believable alcoholic.  Ferguson is also best known for a tough gal role up to this point, having played the female foil to Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.  She has the least showy of the three roles, but she does very well with it.  Bennett, meanwhile, feels like a possible break out star, especially having also just been seen in The Magnificent Seven remake.  She will also be seen in Warrren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, due out in November.

The Girl on the Train is an adequate thriller, but it falls well short of being great or even simply good.  This is one train ride that could have used a little more steam.

The Girl on the Train is rated R for “violence, sexual content, language, and nudity.”  This movie does not pretend to be anything less than an R.  The sex and nudity is prevalent and a couple of violent scenes could make you cringe.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Girl on the Train.