The Girl on the Train (2016) Film Review

I’m always cautious when reviewing a film adaptation of a book because I understand they are two different platforms to tell a story. You have to understand that some changes are necessary in order to make it work for the film, yet it needs to keep the same spirit as the book and when it strips that away then there is a problem.

I heard about New York bestseller The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was being adapted into a film and was billed as “the next Gone Girl” (Gone Girl it is not) a while ago yet it was only until recently that I finally read the book. There was a lot of hype surrounding the film and the fact it had done so well would cause you to think that they were actually good….you’d think.

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The Girl on the Train focuses on Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) who commutes to New York every day and becomes fixated with the “perfect couple”. After the disappearance of Megan Hipwell it makes pointing the finger at Rachel Watson easier since she is an alcoholic who was there on the night Megan went missing and can’t remember what happened.

As mentioned earlier I try not to compare the book and film but it’s hard not to do so when one is a lot better than the other. The book isn’t perfect, yet in comparison it has a great pace to it allowing the tension to organically form and it really engrosses the reader to form their own opinions of the events that are unfolding. It’s in diary format and is from the perspective of its three female characters (with leading character Rachel Watson portrayed on screen by Emily Blunt) and in the book it’s really clever how Paula Hawkins manages to weave all timelines together to form a coherent narrative.

If I had to review it objectively then even in that case it would have felt very underwhelming and very immediate in the events that happen in the film. We’re first introduced to Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) and then all of a sudden we’re introduced to Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) without feeling like Rachel has been properly established and THEN we’re introduced to Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson). That fast paced “making sure we got all the information in” approach continues until you get to the ending and feel like “how did we end up here?”. The whole point of a mystery thriller is to actually have mystery and have some thrills in the twists and turns; yet in the film we are literally given all the information straight away and it’s not thrilling at all because the information was delivered in a factual manner.

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One positive from the film is Emily Blunt’s performance; a committed performance of a woman who feels like she has lost everything, mourning the past which has escaped from her and is desperate for any form of connection with anyone. However for the other characters they are completely underdeveloped and thinly written, even in the book they were more fleshed out and even in that case they could have been developed more.

There were elements that felt very basic and brushed aside very quickly that in the book were key elements yet in the film it was stated then moved on very quickly. It’s hard to give a spoiler free review as I could go in depth in giving examples of how the film failed to create any sense of mystery. With that in mind that would be my review of the film: Very immediate in its execution and completely underdeveloped in every sense.

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I can’t help but look at Gone Girl (2014) as a prime example of how to do an adaption correctly; the author (who was also the screenwriter) Gillian Flynn was wise in what to keep in and flesh out and what to cut out to give other elements of the book more time on screen to create suspense. Now don’t worry I won’t compare Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train because the former is a stronger film and book than the latter.

I’m not going to tell you to just read the book and not bother with the film (even though I want to) because if you’re like me you’ll still want to form your own opinion and watch the film to see for yourself. So just be warned that the book delves deeper into what the film failed to do. Ultimately that is the failure of director Tate Taylor (The Help) because the film actually had potential to be a quality mystery thriller.

(Star rating: 2/5 stars)

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