(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©DreamWorks, it does not belong to me)
From the offset, I wasn’t sure about this film. Its beginning had elements of Gone Girl‘s aesthetic – and I loved that film – so I was both expecting a lot and also troubled by the similarities in font and the opening shots of facial-closeups. However, that’s where the similarities (apart from the murder mystery stuff) ended, and that didn’t bode well.
The Girl On The Train mainly follows Rachel, a woman who commutes to New York every day and, on her journey, travels past various neighbourhoods. In one of these neighbourhoods, Rachel watches a house and the Woman who lives there, eventually forming an attachment to the stranger. Rachel creates a perfect, imaginary life for her, and makes sure she checks in on the Woman every day during the commute. We then jump to see the Woman, Megan, whose life is not as perfect as Rachel-on-the-train thinks. Finally, the scene flips again and we watch Anna, who has married Rachel’s ex-husband and lives two doors down from Megan. The two latter women, Anna and Megan, look ridiculously similar; though it’s used as a plot device later on, it’s no wonder I’m confused – and we’re only 10 minutes in.
The film’s beginning is incredibly voice-over heavy in an effort to get the watcher up to scratch with everything that is happening in these three women’s lives. Though the voiceover does come in useful to understand moments of the plot, I found it unravelled my immediate enjoyment. Moreover, the film’s timeline jumps around so much it’s hard to keep track of what is going on, or what timeline we are in – though we might get a black screen saying “Six Months Ago“, there’s no notification when we return to the present, and it took a moment to realise where exactly I, as a watcher, was supposed to be.
The jumbled up timelines, random fades and heavy narration definitely gives the impression that the screenwriter (Erin Cressida Wilson) struggled to work out how to structure the plot for the screen. I’ve not read the novel, by Paula Hawkins, so I’m not sure whether the format the book uses was too difficult to translate so they chose a different way in, or whether the screenplay was an attempt at following the book’s format (focusing on various characters); either way, it doesn’t really work. Having said that, the revelations we get towards the end of the film are juicy, and I definitely didn’t see them coming.
The best thing about TGOTT, by far, is Emily Blunt. She is utterly spectacular in her portrayal of Rachel, and it’s the best acting I think I have ever seen Blunt do. She perfectly captures the turmoil, confusion and deep, grating emotion that Rachel’s character feels. Throughout the film I could feel my sympathy for Rachel swinging like a pendulum; first you like her, then she’s a bit creepy, then – oh, didn’t expect that! For the longest time you’re not sure whether you trust her, or believe her – we are as messed up and confused as Rachel is, stuck knowing only as much as she does. She really made me feel, and sometimes not in a good way. For a time, I really didn’t like Rachel, and that’s partly why her character, and Emily Blunt’s portrayal, is definitely the best aspect of TGOTT.
Unfortunately, the other characters are never really looked at in much detail. Although the plot is supposed to revolve around three women – Rachel, Megan and Anna – the other two ladies never really get given much depth of character, and they’re really only used as plot devices. It’s a shame, considering this is a supposed to be a thrilling murder mystery, and I didn’t really feel scared for anyone’s safety but Rachel’s, and even that was only half the time. I was also disappointed that this was another film that lacked ethnic variety for its characters; okay, so the point can be raised that it’s based on a book, Megan and Anna should look similar, etc, but there were various outlying characters that could easily not have been caucasian. (For spoiler-free example, Rachel’s roommate, Megan’s husband, the police officers, Martha.) Come on, casting directors, it’s not that hard.
Overall, I found the film an enjoyable watch. It filled 2 hours when I had nothing better to do. Unfortunately, the voiceover drowned out some really good imagery as I focused on what was being said instead of what was on screen. The tension crawls for most of the film as Rachel tries to put herself back together, and then explodes in the last 15 minutes. The ending was good, but it took too long to get there; if you’re thinking about seeing it on the big screen, I would say wait until it comes out on DVD. Verdict: 5/10. (However, if it was based solely on Emily Blunt’s acting, it would get a solid 8.)