Starring: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive), Luke Evans (Dracula Untold), Edgar Ramirez (Joy), Allison Janney (Juno)
Director: Tate Taylor (The Help)
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson (Men, Women & Children)
Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes
Release Date: 5 October (UK), 7 October (US)
It’s great to see directors take on different genres and styles; it proves they are versatile storytellers. However, some directors are better off staying away from certain types of films, and it’s only more disconcerting when it’s clear they are trying to imitate another director’s sensibilities. Steven Spielberg’s attempt to mimic Stanley Kubrick with AI was mixed at best, whilst Peter Berg aping Michael Bay with Battleship proved there is a warped artistry to Bay’s style that can’t simply be copied. The novel The Girl on the Train was marketed as the next Gone Girl, and so it only seems natural that the film adaptation would go for a style similar to David Fincher. But this film doesn’t have Fincher and so, like those previous attempts at replication, all that leaves us with is a competent but artistically blank movie.
The Girl on the Train is structurally similarly to Gone Girl by following multiple viewpoints both past and present, but it lacks the pacing and tension of the former. It’s about half an hour in before the main crisis even occurs, and it’s only once the second reaches its close does the situation even begin to seem taut. This may be mainly because the mystery itself lacks much depth, hiding its skeletal frame behind lots of scenes of Rachel (Blunt) wandering around intoxicated and remember how much of a f*ck-up she is. The principal cast is simply way too small and the details far too restrictive to allow the possibilities to run wild, leading to only a handful of potential scenarios before the ultimately lacklustre reveal. The warped perspective of Rachel does help keep things up in the air, and an important character reveal is well done and completely makes you re-evaluate the entire situation, but even in that moment it quickly becomes far too clear what is actually going on. The final act does manage to wring some suspense out of the ordeal and finally reveals the grit the film lacked earlier, but it’s all too little too late. I suspect the story may have flowed better as a novel, but in translation it just doesn’t come across as anything particularly noteworthy in the mystery thriller genre.
What thankfully saves the movie are some strong performances from the principal cast, particularly Emily Blunt as the perpetually in-torment Rachel. Her portrayal of an alcoholic feels genuine and depressing, and no matter the situation she holds your attention throughout. She’s not an easy character to like, especially in the first half where it’s easy to write her off as pathetic, but by the end you’re rooting for her and without Blunt the film could have easily fallen apart. Haley Bennett as missing person and secondary protagonist Megan is also excellent, painted with similar shades to Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl but with far more sympathy and relatability; you don’t exactly like her, but you at least understand her. Rebecca Ferguson’s Anna doesn’t get nearly enough screen time and you could easily deduce she is unlikable, but given her situation you can’t blame her for being untrusting and Ferguson does a good job of balancing the line of morality. The rest, however, aren’t quite as successful. Both Justin Theroux and Luke Evans feel far too one-dimensional and on-the-nose in their performances, making it easy to guess the roads they’re going to go down. Edgar Ramirez doesn’t exactly stand out in a role that could have been played by any number of actors, and by the third act both he and Evans completely disappear from the plot. Allison Janney’s detective is also pretty poor; she doesn’t solve anything and instead spends most of the movie making wild presumptions and patronising Blunt.
Tate Taylor’s background as a director is in light-hearted dramas, so shifting from that into a murder mystery is a hard but not impossible task. However, instead of finding his own way of telling the story, Taylor too often feels like he is imitating David Fincher without fully grasping that style. The film is competently constructed on all technical levels, but nothing particularly stands out. With the bland cinematography, acceptable editing and forgettable score (which I should not be saying about anything composed by Danny Elfman), the film lacks any kind of voice in its presentation. Taylor’s influence is felt in the more dramatic scenes and he does a good job of presenting Rachel’s mindset visually, but anything that’s meant to be thrilling feels adequate at best. By attempting to replicate another director’s style, he’s only gone and lost his own voice in the process.
The Girl on the Train isn’t a complete waste of time thanks to Emily Blunt’s performance alone, but everything else about it only feels a slight grade above what you’d get on the average crime drama: mildly thrilling, but nothing you’re going to remember for long. It lacks an identity of its own, clinging to the aesthetics of its spiritual brethren and disguising its lack of complexity with a lot of alcoholic melodrama. Maybe that’s enough for the average audience, but if you’re at all savvy when it comes to these kinds of movies it’s going to be far too easy to figure out what’s going on.
FINAL VERDICT: 5.5/10