The Girl on the Train
by Toby Woollaston
It’s a question everyone asks – was the book better than the film? To me it seems a fruitless inquiry as they are such dramatically different mediums. In most cases the book wins out, simply because it allows the reader to imagine a picture, whereas the film has the onerous task of presenting that picture … which differs for everyone. In this instance, I saw The Girl on the Train having not read the book. So, I was charged with reviewing the film on its own terms rather than having to consider screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson’s treatment of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling pot boiler.
As a proto-feminist thriller, The Girl on the Train does not tread lightly on themes of motherhood, identity, and displacement. The first half slowly unfolds as a psychological drama that introduces three women and the gender politics that play out in their homes.
On her daily commute, Rachel (Emily Blunt), a struggling alcoholic, obsessively observes from her train seat the home of her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Fergusson). Two houses down another couple, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett), are also the subject of Rachel’s voyeurism as she obsessively observes their seemingly perfect relationship. When Megan mysteriously goes missing, Rachel’s paranoia runs the risk of implicating herself. At this point the film takes an interesting turn. Rather than sinking into a procedural police drama, the second act plays out like a Hitchcockian thriller, concerning itself with a deeper exploration of the three women’s psyches rather than solely the reason behind Megan’s disappearance.
The narrative structure is intentionally ambiguous and offers the rewarding task of piecing together a fractured mosaic of time periods and viewpoints. This is further enhanced by well-considered camera work which deftly expresses each character differently through subtle changes in framing and movement. Blunt’s role as the film’s unreliable narrator is portrayed with a convincing sense of paranoia as she skilfully traverses the issues surrounding her character’s unhinged state. Her performance goes a long way to holding this film together – a film, which for the most part, is competently crafted by director Tate Taylor (The Help) but unfortunately let down by a slightly clumsy ending that tested my suspension of disbelief. Despite this, I found The Girl on the Train a very thrilling journey through another person’s paranoia.
Star rating: 4/5
See the published review here.