Since Paula Hawkins’ thriller novel The Girl on the Train reached the top of the best-selling list last year, the anticipation surrounding the inevitable cinematic adaptation has been rife. The film version is directed by Tate Taylor, and moves the story from London across the Atlantic to a New York setting. Emily Blunt takes the role of Rachel, the titular ‘girl’ on the train who commutes daily past her former marital home where ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) lives happily with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their young daughter. Whilst struggling with an alcohol problem, she begins to take an unhealthy interest in Tom and Anna’s idyllic next door neighbours Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), who appear to have the perfect life from the outside looking in. However, when Megan goes missing, Rachel finds herself embroiled in the investigation.
Rachel’s deep unhappiness and troubles with addiction are cleverly used to support the way in which the story is told, with alcohol induced blackouts and non-linear jolts in the narrative adding to the mysterious and incoherent plot. We, like the protagonist, are forced to fill in the blanks and piece together the clues through a hungover haze veiled in duplicity. The novel was billed as ‘the next Gone Girl’ and there are obvious comparisons to be made with the movies in terms of the style and tone. Through this association, the development doesn’t feel quite as interesting as it really should, and it all starts to feel very par for the course in the psychological crime genre.
The casting of Emily Blunt has generally been questioned and criticised, with fans of the book claiming she is too ‘glamorous’ for the lead part as Rachel is described as being overweight in the novel. Physically, Blunt appears dishevelled on the screen, sporting a gaunt expression and cracked lips as she gazes out the train window supping disguised spirits through a sports bottle. Her performance is rather fascinating, and I personally think the juxtaposition of the character’s irrational behaviour and Blunt’s hidden beauty adds to this in some way. Blunt manages to sustain the film’s level of intrigue even when Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay traces old tracks. Bennett is the strongest of the supporting cast and Edgar Ramirez also puts in a good turn as creepy psychiatrist Kamal Abdic.
The Girl on the Train is a solid and worthwhile page-to-screen adaptation, but relies on its strong central performance from Emily Blunt to bolster the paint-by-numbers mystery material. It can often be the case that a film struggles to live up to the hype of the book it is based upon, and perhaps the geographical adjustment may lead the avid reader fan base to disappointment. While the source may have been a shocking page-turner, the film is less of a thrill ride and more like a familiar journey that’s enjoyable enough for the most part but one that you’re sort of glad to get off when you reach your station.