‘The Girl on the Train’ takes too many nonsensical turns
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, and Edgar Ramirez
“The Girl on the Train” – “Mental wounds not healing. Life’s a bitter shame. I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.” - Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train”
This film – based upon a bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins – takes some crazy and illogical turns. Rachel (Emily Blunt), the lead protagonist in the picture, is not necessarily crazy, but sad life events shattered her spirit, and she is in dire need of help.
From the first moment that the camera focuses on Rachel, it is clear that she is not well. With blotchy cheeks and chapped lips, she sometimes passively and sometimes very actively looks out the window of a train, which she takes to and from Manhattan on her Monday through Friday commute. Her active gazes usually come into focus when the train passes two particular houses.
One is the domicile of an unknown couple, who we later discover are Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). The other home is occupied by Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), so pining over these people who live in these large, expensive houses certainly is not the healthiest of activities. It also is not healthy that Rachel usually sips from her water bottle filled with vodka or gin, while she confesses to the movie audience about her broken marriage and the subsequent emotional pain that she has endured for two years.
Two years ago, “Gone Girl” arrived in theatres, and this excellent adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel thrilled movie audiences and critics alike. Now, it is Hawkins’ turn to have her highly successful book transformed into a major motion picture. I only bring up “Gone Girl”, because the mere mention of “The Girl on the Train” to a knowledgeable movie aficionado will probably trigger a comment about the Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike white knuckler from 2014. Sure, the name “Girl” may be in both titles, but from a movie perspective, these two films carry very different results.
Director Tate Taylor has delivered very successful results from a pair of recent films - “Get on Up” (2014) and “The Help” (2011) - but in this case, he and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson constructed a nonsensical mystery which also doubles as the most pedestrian thriller that I’ve seen in years.
Well, admittedly, the mystery itself is not terribly nonsensical, but the path to solving it absolutely is. Rachel – in an inebriated state - sees “something very wrong” at one of the aforementioned homes. Since her life is in shambles and void of much meaning, a few days later she – while intoxicated - exits the train near the two couples’ houses to utterly break the rule of minding her own business. From Rachel’s partially blacked out perspective, the audience witnesses a semi-coherent confrontation, and soon after, the local police department reports that Megan is missing.
The movie, however, falls apart when Rachel decides to solve the whodunit by inserting herself into the lives of Scott, Tom, Anna, and another key character (who I will refrain from naming).
In this twisted, melodramatic universe, Rachel is the most qualified person to act as a detective, because she was present, or at least nearby, when Megan disappeared. On the other hand, she is the least qualified individual because of her fragile, alcoholic state, and yes, she is also a suspect.
The movie’s pacing and construction are suspect too. Through a series of plodding one-on-one exchanges, Rachel confronts the various characters and attempts to piece together the events on that fateful day, like an unqualified Sherlock Holmes with a terrible hangover.
Although the screenplay methodically reveals the truth through important cinematic breadcrumbs, the film treats Rachel like a bumbling idiot, and we are subjected to her cloudy, erratic and poorly executed journey. Blunt skillfully allows us to feel sympathy for Rachel, but the character’s repeated lapses in judgement – even when sober - wear on our patience.
The screenplay plays out in a nonlinear timeline, as several flashbacks from two years, six months, four months, and two months ago appear on the screen, but sometimes the important glimpses into the past inconsistently exist for just a few moments or several minutes. After a while, the numerous returns to prior times become tiresome, as they continually break the already jagged rhythm of Rachel’s story. Rather than watch Rachel’s, Megan’s and Anna’s narratives unfold with intensity, they oddly just become curiosities. Unfortunately, I found myself sitting in my theatre seat with my arms folded, while the picture leisurely chronicles the dysfunctional histories of three women which connect to their damaged present days.
“The Girl on the Train” produces a couple surprises, but they seem better suited for a recycled Lifetime Network movie offered on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Even worse, to make the story fit, four key characters concoct decisions that no actual human beings would ever ponder. While watching their foolish behaviors – such as Rachel repeatedly trespassing on Tom and Anna’s property without the owning party even considering a restraining order - my suspension of disbelief was completely flattened. How much so? Just imagine a speedy passenger train obliterating one small piece of fruit (a grape, perhaps) sitting on a railroad track.
I will say that Blunt churns out a very good performance, and her portrayal of an emotionally damaged alcoholic feels authentic and sobering (pardon the pun). Save wanting to experience one worthwhile performance or compare storylines between the book and the movie, “The Girl on the Train” might be a ride that you should miss. Sadly, I know that my mental wounds caused by this movie are not healing yet.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.