Directed by Tate Taylor. Produced by Marc Platt. Written by Erin Cressida Wilson. Release date: October 7, 2016.
Gone Girl-lite, The Girl on the Train is a plodding, meandering thriller that just goes to show what happens when you get a director who isn't as good at this sort of thing as David Fincher is. Not that Tate Taylor isn't a good director - his last two features would suggest that he is - but he doesn't seem to know how to generate any suspense or audience interest in a movie that's supposed to have lots of it. He's just not right for this material - an adaptation of a novel written by Paula Hawkins. It goes off the track early on and never rights itself.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is our protagonist, an unreliable alcoholic who takes the train every day to the city and is always on the lookout for a young couple, Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), who live a couple of houses down from the one she and her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) used to inhabit. He's still there, now with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and a young child. Rachel's life has all but fallen apart; Tom's has flourished. After taking far too long to establish all of these characters and their various relationships, the plot kicks in. Rachel finds herself at the center of the disappearance of Megan, except she can't remember anything that happened that night. She was drunk to the point of a blackout.
The film subsequently has Rachel try to figure out exactly what happened that night. She befriends Scott, informing him of things she'd seen from the train. She is investigated by a detective (Allison Janney). And flashbacks begin to fill in the picture, not just for her but for the audience. I think we go as far back as six months, sometimes not following Rachel at all. Megan and Anna get sufficient time on screen - at the cost of significantly hampering any narrative flow The Girl on the Train tries to build.
The answer comes in the form of a "twist" far before the film ends, leading to a disappointing finale that feels overlong. But, then, so does the first act, and some of the middle, too. There doesn't feel like there's enough here to make a movie. Sometimes we see the same scene three or four times, revealing little (or nothing) more, but from a different camera angle or without as much blur - as if the filmmakers thought they needed to fill the time - and didn't want to give us anything to actually think or care about to fill the time.
The Girl on the Train is a real disappointment - a film that looks good on paper, but flimsily collapses after actually seeing it.
This is supposed to be a psychological thriller, one which keeps us guessing from the time of the incident to the point at which the final revelation occurs. Did Rachel kill Megan? Was it Scott? What about Anna? Or Tom? Or Megan's psychologist (Edgar Ramirez), with whom she may or may have been having an affair? Or someone else entirely? Is she even dead? Maybe she ran away, as she alludes to once or twice. We should want to solve this mystery. I couldn't have cared less. The film doesn't have a hook - or any reason to becoming emotionally invested in its proceedings.
Basically, it's one big bore. Hardly any of the film captivates in the way that it should. The only reason you keep watching is the acting, which is better than it needed to be. Emily Blunt's desperate, uncertain, scared, and lonely performance gives us something worth watching - one of the only things in an otherwise dull movie to hold our attention. Not that the other actors are bad - but their characters aren't all that well-written, leaving them without a whole lot to do. But there's Emily Blunt, giving it her all, in a movie that doesn't deserve her.
The Girl on the Train is a real disappointment - a film that looks good on paper but flimsily collapses after actually seeing it. The narrative is weak and plodding, never giving you a reason to invest yourself in it. It adds up to very little and gives itself up too quickly. The flashbacks stunt its forward progress and make things a little confusing - you'll spend more time figuring out what happened when than caring about the characters in the present. If not for a strong cast - including a memorable performance from Emily Blunt in the lead role - The Girl on the Train probably would have made its debut on cable.
Bottom Line: Save for strong acting, The Girl on the Train has little going for it.
Recommendation: Might make a decent cable watch in a couple of years, but other than that you probably don't have much reason to see The Girl on the Train.
If you want more of Matthew "Marter" Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet.