Cinematic Releases: The Girl on the Train (2016) - Reviewed

Following in the footsteps of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl with its jumpy narrative, labyrinthine plot and rumination on troubled, even disturbed women, Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train (the third movie with this name despite unrelated content) comes to the screen from director Tate Taylor (The Help) and stars Emily Blunt as an obsessive and troubled alcoholic who may or may not be involved in a murder mystery.  A Hitchcockian thriller in the classical sense with some moments of De Palma-esque brutality, it’s a convoluted neo-noir with a lot of sex, drugs, boozing, short-term memory loss and paranoia from all sides.  

While I haven’t read the novel, the film is the stuff of countless suspense thrillers we’ve seen many times over and when the revelations come it’s a bit of a disappointment but Emily Blunt is so good as a sloppy drunk you almost forget the plot contrivances.  Pure melodrama with moments of capital A acting and so many flashbacks and flash forwards that you can easily get lost in the narrative.  On occasion we get sidetracked by surrounding character subplots featuring Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Lisa Kudrow, Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson serving as suspect red herrings but ultimately this is Emily Blunt’s movie as a woman who can’t remember what happened the night a woman she may or may not have known turns up dead. 

Clearly a descendant of Gone Girl though without the visual prowess and uncompromising attitude director David Fincher brought to that material, The Girl on the Train is a bit of a mixed bag for having a strong and captivating mystery leading towards a standard Fatal Attraction meets Panic Room conclusion.  It isn’t particularly inspired or new and it doesn’t help that nearly every character in the film is a wealthy self-serving wretch.  If there’s a way to get your audience to really despise already vile characters, make them well off.  There’s a recurring theme of judging people at face value with some of the more privileged and pretty characters responsible for some pretty unspeakable atrocities, some of which ring high on the silly meter.  As aforementioned, The Girl on the Train jumps around a lot with little help provided by the intertitles indicating who is who and what point in the plot we’re in, overly in love with the twisty turny noir narrative construct to a fault.  

I just love the window seat. 

Despite the shortcomings in the narrative which are attributable to the source, The Girl on the Train is very well made with handsome cinematography, scenic locations with a running train constantly in the background and a moody score by Danny Elfman.  Across the board the performances are good with none missing a beat or coming off hamfisted.  Having seen Blunt in a few films now, she goes out on a limb here with her paranoid and possibly sociopathic alcoholic.  Standard murder mystery tropes aside, she shines brightly in the role.

I won’t lie, other than a scene of violence involving a wine bottle opener and a tragic thread involving a woman who declares her grief by running outside naked in the rain, there isn’t anything in The Girl on the Train we haven’t seen already in pretty much every other murder mystery thriller of its ilk.  The sort of stuff Hitchcock and De Palma do in their sleep, The Girl on the Train is closer to, say, Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct for mixing as much Hitchcock with the plot as old fashioned scopophilic sleaze.  Our attention is held for the duration of the movie thanks to the performances and the convoluted narrative but it ultimately amounts to more of the same and as such is something of a letdown.  Still, in spite of all the factors stacked against it, I was genuinely entertained by The Girl on the Train, ostensibly a B movie tailored to look and feel like a kid cousin to Gone Girl.  Remember when The Sixth Sense came out and everyone started copying that film’s aesthetic, supernatural vibe replete with the “shocking twist ending”?  That’s kind of what you get here: a hand me down.  Overall I enjoyed it and it’s a reasonably solid thriller, just don’t expect it to exceed the film which most directly inspired it.


- Andrew Kotwicki