The Girl on the Train.
Alcoholism. Betrayal. Deceit. Misogyny. Mental Instability. Violence. It’s a dark brew, is this grim but compelling thriller, The Girl on the Train. It’s director Tate Taylor’s take on the book of the same name by British author Paula Hawkins. So what you get out of this film will depend on whether you’ve already read the book. I hadn’t, so the story was new to me. (We’d like to hear from you if you’ve already read the novel – email us with your view at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Girl on the Train is Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, who is divorced, haunted by her failed marriage, and crippled by alcoholism. She is drawn into a tangled, but well explained, mix of relationships involving her ex husband Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their nanny Megan (Haley Bennett). Also in the mix is therapist Megan’s husband Scott (Luke Evans) and therapist Dr Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).
When Megan goes missing, the film asks the audience a central question: is Rachel responsible, and if not her, who? And for the most part, this thriller/whodunit works very well. It’s certainly lifted by a strong cast, and especially the performances by Blunt and Bennett. It looks noir-ishly good too, and the shifting timelines of the story are well put together. So as you watch the drama unfold you’re thinking this is a classy movie.
If you sense a “but” coming, you’re right. It’s to do with the end of the story and the unveiling of the character who is the perpetrator. Watching it I was immediately reminded of a chat about movies I’d had many months ago with a film editor friend of mine, Peter Evans. Peter was talking about mysteries and how sometimes the story can “cheat” the audience. When you get to the final reveal, you should be able to say, “So that’s the culprit, and there was a clever hint about this person earlier in the film, but it was well hidden and I missed it”, or words to that effect. But if that doesn’t happen, you’re left feeling “well how could I have guessed that?” We’re not talking about you simply guessing who it might be, based on your gut feeling. This is about whether the story gives you all the false trails and clues but still contains enough information for you to have worked it out. And Peter’s words came back to me as soon as I saw the end of The Girl on the Train.
Certainly that was my initial reaction to seeing who the perpetrator was. But, just to be sure, I did something I don’t usually do, I saw the film again. And now I am even more certain that up until the time that it’s clear who the guilty party is, there is nothing in the way this person is depicted, in what they say or do, that would lead you to consider them to be a suspect. Ok, you may say that the lack of clues is itself a clue, if that’s not too perverse, but surely the story has to do better than that.
So that’s my take. I enjoyed the film but was frustrated at the end. Did I miss something? Let me know.