Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel works so well thanks to its balance of character study and mystery thrills. Sure, adapting a novel into a movie is no simple task, as certain aspects of the novel are constrained or changed due to budget and run time. But with The Girl on the Train, the movie adaptation derails early on due to story structure issues and certain plot elements that are either rearranged or presented with little to no detail. Along with story structure, any hope of further plot or character development is thrown out the window in favor of mishandled flashbacks, awkward premonitions, and steamy shower sex scenes.
Commuter Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) catches daily glimpses of a seemingly perfect couple, Scott and Megan, from the window of her train. One day, Watson witnesses something shocking unfold in the backyard of the strangers’ home. Rachel tells the authorities what she thinks she saw after learning that Megan is now missing and feared dead. Unable to trust her own memory, the troubled woman begins her own investigation, while police suspect that Rachel may have crossed a dangerous line.
Erin Cressida Wilson, whose screenwriting credits are small, adapted The Girl on the Train and it’s certainly telling that her script could have benefited from more polishing and context for almost every character. While some of the main plot points are beat-for-beat like the novel, none of them offer much excitement due to all the characters, minus Rachel Watson, feeling so one-note. Instead of being invested in the lives of the pivotal characters and their motives, the audience is left with no empathy for those in play and constantly reminded of just how bad anyone can be. With the exception of Rachel Watson, the rest of the characters and their subplots that pertain to the central story fall by the wayside, which is a shame considering all of the characters play much bigger roles in a novel, which keeps you guessing. The movie is a little over an hour and forty minutes, so is it too much to ask for an additional 30 minutes to puff up the story a bit? For goodness sake, the novel is just a little over 300 pages.
Emily Blunt (Sicario) as Rachel Watson is the only beacon of hope in The Girl on the Train that offers a glimpse of what could have been something thrilling. Blunt, who feels particularly felicitous for this role, is terrific as a depressing, single alcoholic with a tragic past. Scenes where Blunt’s Rachel Watson is drunk are some of the movie’s best moments. They leave us trying to muster some hope for the future of her character or reminded of where the bottle can lead. As for the rest of the cast, however, the actors try to make use of what they’re given and, as mentioned before, they feel one-note in comparison to Blunt’s Rachel Watson. Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Justin Theroux (The Leftovers), Luke Evans (Dracula Untold), and Edgar Ramirez (Joy) all play the other key figures in The Girl on the Train. While these cast members are given little to chew on, Ferguson’s portrayal of Anna is the most underused character, which is disappointing considering how talented Ferguson is and how, with a better script, she could have been another standout.
Director Tate Taylor (The Help) fails to keep things intriguing once the audience is fully aware of what’s going on. The Girl on the Train doesn’t throttle toward the finish line in anticipation of something you don’t see coming. Without spoiling, let’s just say a big twist comes much earlier in the movie than expected, as opposed to the book where you’re left wondering until the last few chapters. Then, to make matters worse, the twist is so obvious once you put two and two together. And for a story lacking any urgency whatsoever, the events that take place over the span of a few months feel like something crammed into a one-weekend mystery and the result is flat out boring.
Considering the talent in front of and behind the camera, The Girl on the Train is an absolute waste of valuable resources. Just like the main character’s forgetful nature brought about by alcohol-induced blackouts, The Girl on the Train is careless, offering no hope of redeeming itself. For those who want to be entertained with unexpected twists and noteworthy characters haunted by their past actions, read the novel instead. I guarantee it won’t waste your time like this movie does.