“Who do you trust when you don’t trust yourself?”
(Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson. Directed by Tate Taylor. Based on the novel by Paula Hawkins.)
The original Girl on the Train 2015 novel was *huge* when it first went on bookshelves. I remember buying it for my dad’s birthday and he read it compulsively for only a few days before finishing it, and thoroughly enjoying it. I must admit, I never read that much anymore, but as the mantra from YouTuber Jeremy Scott says: “The books don’t matter!”. It’s like going to a restaurant, ordering a lobster, chips, and salad from the menu, only to receive the chips and salad, and the waiter telling you “Oh, you need to bring your own lobster in order to have the full meal.” A viewer should be able to watch an adaptation and not feel left out, purely because they had not read the original book before entering the cinema (I admit that metaphor was very long winded, but I hope you got the gist).
I am always interested in big-budget adaptations of novels as when done badly they usually go into one of two categories; they simplify it too much to the point where some plot points don’t make sense, or they try and cram in too many details into a two hour film and the audience is overloaded with information that might not be necessary. It is a difficult craft, but it is what’s currently selling, after the phenomena that were the Harry Potter films, The Hunger Games franchise, and most recently the Fifty Shades of Grey series. There are adaptations that seem to have failed that transition from page to screen, like Divergent, Enders’ Game, The Golden Compass. Does The Girl on the Train fall into any of these traps?
Short answer, no. Honest answer? No, but it still was a disappointing film.
For those of you who have not read the book or have not watched the trailers, The Girl on the Train is about Rachel (Emily Blunt), a raging alcoholic, who finds herself being distrusted by the police when she ends up involved in a murder nearby to her ex-husband’s house. I assume that in the original book, chapters were from different characters’ perspectives, as even though Rachel is the film’s main focus we sometimes hear from the viewpoints of her ex-husband’s current wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and the murder victim, Megan (Haley Bennett). The film flickers back and forth in time, revealing to the viewer new information about the murder as the present events unfold. Which would sound like a great premise for a Hollywood adaptation if it was not let down by the film’s production team.
When watching The Girl on the Train, it did not feel like a film to me. It felt like I was watching a memory being replayed. The usual three-act structure could not be identified, and it just seemed like a constant thread of intense scenes put together with little to no build to the next revelation. This lead to the final act of the film coming out of the blue without a build-up to said moment, making me guess if this is indeed the final act or not.
One thing I think shone through in this film was the editing (done by Andrew Buckland & Michael McCusker). Buckland and McCusker perfectly demonstrated to the viewer Rachel’s fragmented psychology. Using jagged jump-cuts and blurred, distorted vision they showed us how drunk she actually was, or confused, or how she was figuring out the mystery. It is a perfect example of how editing can be such a powerful element of a piece when done properly!
The performances were well done across the board, especially Blunt’s performance as the alcoholic divorcee, Rachel. However, I felt like with the combination of a lacklustre script and average cinematography, the performances were swallowed up in this stream of consciousness I was observing. The actor I felt got the blunt of this (pun not intended) was Luke Evans as Megan’s husband, Scott. Because of the amount of focus on Rachel’s state of mind in the direction, and the way his scenes were shot, there was a lack of opportunity to texturise Evans’s portrayal of the confused, possessive husband. This lead to Scott coming across as 2-dimensional, even though I could tell Evans was trying his hardest to fight against that. Haley Bennett as Megan also got a share of this problem, coming across as this stereotypical, overly sexual woman who has it all but dissatisfied with her supposed glamorous life (though to be honest, she has a good reason to be).
I think my main problem with this film is that it comes across as an aimless adaptation. There is not a strong drive to encourage the audience to want to figure out the mystery, rather than just viewers having the competitive instinct to figure out the killer before everyone else in the room. It is disappointing. However, my sister and mother seemed to enjoy a good evening of mystery, which was the overall aim for the evening (though my mum was not appreciative of the apparent overuse of the f word), so should I really complain? Maybe it is just me being overly picky as usual. Then again, if I wasn’t picky, I would be writing a very boring blog.
Caption: Fabby editing. Shame about the film.