The Girl on the Train (2016)
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Premise: Based on the novel by Paula Hawkins. An alcoholic divorcee (Emily Blunt) rides a train to work that passes by her ex-husband’s home. One day she spots something suspicious and becomes a suspect in a missing person investigation.
What Works: Despite the many faults of The Girl on the Train, the performance by Emily Blunt is impressive. Her character is a mess and Blunt throws herself into the part. The best moments of The Girl on the Train involve Blunt’s character being some degree of intoxicated. Were this a character study instead of a murder mystery, it could have been a much more interesting film. The Girl on the Train also has some striking imagery. Again, it is the drunken escapades that create opportunities for many of the most interesting sequences in the film. Scenes of Blunt’s character drunkenly stumbling through the world are well shot and the filmmakers use some creative cinematic techniques to convey her impaired perspective.
What Doesn’t: A lot about The Girl on the Train is stupid, starting with the conceit. The film posits that a drunken woman would be able to see the goings on within a house as she passes by on a train. That alone strains credibility and the filmmakers do themselves no favors with the rest of the story. The film’s portrayal of alcoholism is absurd. The audience is initially presented with a character who is out of control, drinking her days away and occasionally waking up in strange places. But once the murder mystery gets underway, Emily Blunt’s character is able to just stop drinking. This doesn’t match the severity of the problem and it cheapens her affliction. The murder mystery is not all that mysterious. From pretty early on, it is obvious who has killed this woman and so for most of the movie the audience waits for the filmmakers to catch up. The story of The Girl on the Train is a mess. The narrative is told in a nonlinear fashion. The intent seems to be to simulate the murkiness of the title character’s alcohol-saturated memory but the movie isn’t organized in a way that makes sense. The truth does not reveal itself because of a process of investigation where one clue leads to another; the filmmakers just withhold information to arbitrarily prolong the drama. Nothing cues the transitions between past and present and the film is just a sloppy mess of arbitrary events that could be rearranged in any order. There are tremendous plot holes with the characters jumping to conclusions or remembering things they never witnessed. The Girl on the Train is stuffed with a bunch of purposeless supporting characters. The compromised psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez), the tempestuous husband (Luke Evans), and the mysterious train rider (Darren Goldstein) are supposed to provide a selection of potential killers but no one is interesting or even that threatening. The cast also includes the requisite homicide detective, played by Allison Janney, who says and does all of the cliché things that detectives are supposed to say and do in these kinds of movies. But the detective of The Girl on the Train is remarkably ineffective. There’s also the other two women of the film: the wife and the young victim who nannies for her. Neither of these characters are interesting and through them the movie skews its intent. The Girl on the Train is ultimately a murder mystery in the vein of Rear Window and had the filmmakers kept their focus on telling that kind of story there is a potentially compelling movie here. But instead the filmmakers divert their attention to focus on suburban discontent and The Girl on the Train alternates its murder mystery plot with American Beauty-style naval gazing. But the movie has nothing to say about that and it is just pretentious filler.
Bottom Line: The Girl on the Train a lousy thriller and its efforts to be some kind of existential meditation on suburbia and womanhood fall short. The picture does have a great performance by Emily Blunt but the material doesn’t adequately support it.
Episode: #620 (November 6, 2016)