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Adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s bestselling thriller never gets on track
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Tate Taylor). 112 minutes. Opens Friday (October 7). See listings. Rating: NN
Emily Blunt gives a terrific performance in The Girl On The Train – drunk, uncertain, frightened, lonely, lost and ultimately brave. She’s always a compelling screen presence, but she’s literally the only reason to see this movie.
And now I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t bother.
The Girl On The Train is terrible. It transposes Paula Hawkins’s bestseller from London to New York, which is bad enough, but the shift from page to screen neuters a key twist because screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Tate Taylor either couldn’t figure out how to create its cinematic equivalent or just didn’t care.
Despite the all-star cast in front of the camera – not just Blunt but Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s Rebecca Ferguson, High-Rise’s Luke Evans, The Magnificent Seven’s Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon and a barely there Lisa Kudrow – The Girl On The Train is an astoundingly sloppy construction, and almost shockingly dull for a movie that’s supposed to be a psychological thriller.
The plot has promise. When a young woman (Bennett) disappears in a monied commuter town, Rachel Watson (Blunt) comes forward to say she’s seen her a few days earlier from the Metro-North train, kissing a man who was not her husband.
Rachel then inserts herself into the investigation, talking to the missing woman’s spouse (Evans) and sharing knowledge a casual witness couldn’t possibly have. We roll back into her own history to find out how she came to be on that train at that time, looking at that house. And eventually, yes, we find out what happened.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Wilson and Taylor have put the book on the screen, but they don’t know how to bring it to life. The film is inert, sterile, that big twist destroyed by the fact that movies literally have to show us things, while books don’t.
It doesn’t give anything away to say that the novel has an unreliable narrator, because the movie exposes that character as such in its first two minutes, underlining how untrustworthy her perspective is through elaborate camera angles and jittery dropped frames.
I found myself wondering whether Taylor has ever seen a thriller. He certainly has no idea how they work.
The film just sits there in scene after scene, flipping through red herrings and false starts with one eye on the running time: Is it a feature yet? No? Let’s revisit this one scene from another angle – that’ll get us there.
Ferguson is fine Bennett is quite moving in a few brief moments. The other supporting actors struggle to make an impact: Janney’s performance has the feel of an elaborately constructed character that went entirely untapped, and Ramirez is a very strange fit for a character named Dr. Kamal Abdic, especially when he starts speaking Spanish in one scene. (There’s colour-blind casting and then there’s this kind of thing, where the performer’s ethnicity actively works against his character.) And Theroux is so miscast that my preview audience simply refused to take him seriously.
But then, Blunt. I keep coming back to Blunt and the work she does to bring Rachel to life. All her choices are interesting, even the way Rachel’s accent keeps sliding between mid-Atlantic and full English, since the film never tells us where she’s from or how she came to be in suburban New York.
Given how little the movie seems to care about anything, I decided the accent was Blunt’s own choice, perhaps designed to remind us of The Girl On The Train’s English origins. I’d really love to see the movie she thought she was making.