Reviewed : The Girl on the Train (2016, Tate Taylor)

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    Based on the bestselling novel by British author Paula Hawkins, “The Girl on the Train” is a well developed – be it flawed – mystery thriller with brilliant performances throughout. Where similar productions have managed the plot and characters effectively- a prime example being Fincher’s “Gone Girl” – this film struggles to convey the deep themes of its premise due to the personas of those that are pivotal to its context.

Themes such as domestic abuse, infidelity and alcoholism are all presented within the various portrayals, yet these darker aspects are more glided over instead of fully developed through the narrative. This leads “The Girl on the Train” to feel shallow in the development of such issues,  with these elements forcing the film to feel plot heavy for expositional purposes.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a broken a woman. Divorced and on a continuous downward spiral through life, she fixates on the daily commute to New York – where she fantasises about the people that litter her journey. When she is believed to have had some connection to a missing person case, Rachel is thrust into the narrative spotlight – meandering blackouts and depression in hopes of shedding light on what has occurred.

Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is the other woman – the cause of Rachel’s divorce and the mother of her ex-husbands baby. Callous and untrustworthy of her husbands actions, the dislike between the pair is paramount to the narrative strand. Megan (Haley Bennett), her babysitter, is a free spirited young woman with a self destructive persona. When she disappears and fingers are pointed at the various potential participants, the film explores the relationships that the woman have, not only to each other, but also towards Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), Megan’s partner Scott (Luke Evans) and psychiatrist Dr. Kamal (Edgar Ramirez).

As plot-lines go, “The Girl on the Train” does hold a gripping development that captures the attention of the audience from the very first sequence too its dramatic conclusion. However, it comes with various faults. Firstly  for the film to work the narrative relies entirely on the  unreliable narrative construct that Hawkins has placed within her novel. The very nature of alcoholism as a characteristic of Rachel means that the audience is always blindfolded as the events unfold onscreen. What can be believed? What should be valued in terms of truth? All derive from the unreliable nature of the character. Therefore, to remove this attribute from the films equation and their really is no true plot. Of course the film would still deliver upon the mystery element of the story, but with that said so much reliance is placed on confusing the audience that the film struggles to add exposition for any other purpose than further dilution of the truth.

Another key fault with the plot of this film is the very nature of the characters themselves. They are all horrible, flawed individuals and as such the film struggles to develop any form of empathy towards them – which is reflected in the overall feel of the film. Its dark and depression with no real tie to keep the audience invested in the events of the picture as they develop onscreen. By investing too much in keeping the audience in the dark, the film is not allowed to present the characters in any other way than tools for this deception.

Acting in this film is to an extremely high standard throughout. Emily Blunt is brilliant in carrying the film through its many turns. With the audience getting most of the narrative played through her eyes, Blunt is able to portray both the helpless victim persona while also rebirthing her character through the expositional dumps that drive the narrative forward. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson, likewise, deliver strong performances throughout. This is because the trio of woman are given the most amount of breathing space in finding their filmic angle and thus develop as the story progresses. Other characters are more backgrounded to fulfil tooled purposes of driving the films confusion.

The male characters especially struggle with this regard, as the roles portrayed – although strong- feel heavily assigned to key stereotypes that need filling for the movie to work. Justin Theroux is a liar and a cheat, and Luke Evans a violent brute with little more to convince the audience otherwise. It is this lack of development that sets this film apart from similar productions.

Tate Tyler may not be the most recognisable film director working today, but has constructed a somewhat beautiful depiction of the text worlds developed in the original source material. With the relocation of the narrative from Britain to America, the film is able to detail itself in the shot choice and cinematography that is allowed with a more iconic location. Shot in a manner which reflects the mood of the piece, the film is wonderful to look at throughout – whether that be the train cabin or the woodland surrounding the crime scene. The film allows the camera to develop a real sense of location – which in turn heightens the tension onscreen.

“The Girl on the Train” is a well grounded mystery told in a manner that emulates – be it to a lower standard – other films within the genre. With much of the films sell in the strength of Blunt’s character, the unreliable nature masks the lack of true plot the film recounts. The key twist of this production is guessable around the halfway point, but the film still carries enough quality to hold audience attention through to its conclusion.

Plot/ Storyline – 3

Acting – 4

Direction – 3

Effects – 4

Retrospect – 2

Overall – 3.5

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