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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
Universal // R // October 7, 2016
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 13, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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I admit, Paula Hawkins' novel "The Girl on the Train" didn't really strike my interest until the movie adaptation -- starring the delightful Emily Blunt -- was announced, as it always appeared to be a knock-off of another pulpy domestic thriller released a few years prior: this year's "Gone Girl". While some of those suspicions were affirmed after finally experiencing the twisted tale of Rachel Watson and her self-destructive brush with a missing person's case, it was tough not to revel in its unlikable characters, glimpses at alcoholism, and the flickers of dark humor and melancholy desperation in Rachel's hazy decisions. In book form, The Girl on the Train understands that it shouldn't be an entirely grim affair, diluting its gloomy mixture of substance dependency and domestic abuse with splashes of self-deprecation and shock value. Director Tate Taylor serves all that seriousness straight-up, and aside from Emily Blunt's weatherworn performance as the boozy antiheroine, this wobbly and overly gloomy whodunit doesn't go down very smoothly.

Blunt plays Rachel, a divorced public relations professional who commutes every day on a train to New York, disguising her daily, consistent alcohol consumption with one of those trendy filtered water bottles. While traveling each day, she sneaks a peek through the train window at a pair of houses next door to one another. The first contains a beautiful, storybook couple whom Rachel sees talking, snuggling, even sleeping together. Next door to them, she sees the house she once lived in with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who has remarried and now has a child with striking blonde Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), yet continues to stay in the same house despite the history. The tenuous balance in their lives gets thrown off the rails when Megan (Hayley Bennett), the girl who lives next door, goes missing, and Rachel holds a key piece of information in her daily observations ... though she's also dealing with her own mystery, given that she woke up that morning with blood-stained clothes and no memory of the night before.

Similar to Hawkins' novel, The Girl on the Train zooms between time periods across roughly six months, focused on flashes of character development that run parallel with the escalation of Megan's disappearance in the current era. It's always tricky to take a book so focused on shifting first-person accounts and achieve the same internalized details on the silver screen, but director Tate Taylor really struggles to get one invested in any of the supporting characters ... not even through Rachel's eyes. Her obsession with both the glorified couple-next-door and with her husband's new life should play a critical role in the rhythm of the story, both in her motivation for getting involved with the case and the cause of her persistent alcoholic tendencies. Instead, her observations from the train come across as hollowed-out distractions that intensify and weaken depending on the day. They're just pretty reflections of Rachel's past life, not the kind of transfixing motivation that would fuel suspicion about what she's capable of doing if she were drunk enough.

Despite that, Rachel's alcoholism does become a significant, albeit simplified and obscured, feature in The Girl on the Train. Emily Blunt's red-faced, rickety performance conveys the attitude of a woman who's lost herself to the numbing properties of the drink, finding a way to make the stunning actress unappealing to passengers and passersby. Nailing down the appearance of being a grim shadow of her character's former self, Blunt gets wrapped up in the brash, capricious nature of Rachel's drunken escapades, erratically stumbling and sloshing along with her depressing existence until she wakes up in the battered state that gets the film's mysterious engines churning. She earns both sympathy and ire as the deliberately unreliable protagonist, whose boozy and damaged state of mind could feasibly be responsible for crossing any number of boundaries, especially once the film emphasizes which ones she's already stumbled over in the past.

The Girl on the Train uses Rachel's alcoholism to build curiosity over the ominous period she can't remember and how it fits into the evolving disappearance case, and there's an inherent pulpiness to the thrills over what she'll do next to figure it out. Alas, there's a dire lack of suspense involving the fate of Megan and the ineffective red herrings diverting one's attention from what really happened, and director Tate Taylor cannot elevate the dime-store melodrama into whatever kind of meaningful depiction of addiction or abuse that might make someone overlook the flatlined intrigue. Masculine intimidation, mental instability, and domestic protectiveness are all present and should meddle with one's suspicions, but the execution lacks passion and purpose beyond the story's deliberate concealment of the truth. These are token, stereotypical entities surrounding Rachel, merely serving the deflective functions expected of them for a quasi-Hitchcockian buildup.

The destination doesn't justify the ride, either. By way of vexing flashbacks and a convoluted slow-feed of details about what Rachel really encountered that evening, The Girl on the Train arrives at a big reveal of Megan's fate that uncorks its many conflicts -- overbearing husbands, promiscuity, alcoholic black-outs -- in a grandiose twist that's equally preposterous and tepidly anticlimactic. That, however, comes with the territory of Paula Hawkins' novel, since little was changed in its execution; aside from the unnecessary shift in location to New York and additional touches of exposition that fill in the gaps left by the absence of first-person narration, it's a fairly direct adaptation. Thing is, Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have distilled The Girl on the Train to its most churlish and leaden state, resulting in one of those functional but unpleasant trips through the familiar sights of the thriller genre that can't arrive at its stop soon enough.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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