In the Spring of 2015, I was one of the millions of book readers who bought in to the growing hype and picked up a copy of Paula Hawkins’ latest novel The Girl On The Train. Labelled as the next Gone Girl, another book that I had read and thoroughly enjoyed, the novel was destined to follow the same path and eventually make it’s way on to the big screen. My expectations of the film were identical to Gone Girl, that it would be a solid thriller but that I might not be able to extricate my experience of reading the novel with that of watching the adaptation. Could the filmmakers prove me wrong and breath new life in the story for me?
The Girl On The Train tells the story of Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a lonely divorcee with a drinking problem who becomes somewhat obsessed with a couple (played by Luke Evans and Hayley Bennett) whose house she sees out of the window every day on her train ride in to Manhattan. Her fantasy about the couple swiftly becomes the entirety of her reality when after a series of events spurned from the fact that her ex husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) live just two doors down, Rachel finds herself in the middle of missing persons investigation with little to no memory of the night in question. It’s incredibly difficult to talk about the plot without giving too much away, but suffice to say there are the requisite amount of twists and turns to keep the audience on their toes, but the glaring problem that I continued to have as I witnessed the narrative progress was that said twists and turns were taking way, way too long to materialise. There is a definite and intentional tone to the film that keeps everything at a grey, heavy and intense level to match the inner feelings and outer actions of protagonist Rachel, but in achieving this sense of weighty ambience, the audience get what feels like an incredibly ponderous and slow moving story that doesn’t really begin to pay off until the very end of the final third.
It is perhaps not fair to compare the story and dramatic execution to that of Gone Girl, but what I found to be more successful in that particular adaptation was that it benefits from a huge mid-plot twist that shakes up the entire story and leaves the audience in shock until the end. In the case of The Girl On The Train, a narrative that is similarly burdened with switching narrative perspectives and revealing information in different ways, the feeling of the slow burn continues for way too long, and what works so well on the written page does not translate in to exciting enough action on the big screen. Whether this is the fault of the source material or the fault of the screen writing, I cannot say, but as the minutes tick by, and despite an incredibly strong central performance, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that large passages of the film are boring, and that the big reveal at the picture’s conclusion may not be quite satisfying enough to have made the wait worth while.
As alluded to above, what keeps the film going even at it’s slowest and most ponderous moments is the brilliant performance by Emily Blunt. As the alcoholic Rachel, Blunt encapsulates all of the desperation, vulnerability, regret, fear and ultimate will power of a woman who, despite her current afflictions, is determined to face her demons in order to try to both save herself and save people around her who only she suspects are in danger. Though the character has been significantly ‘Hollywood-ised’ for the big screen, with the novel version of Rachel being distinctly heavier and distinctly less attractive, Blunt still manages to capture the essence of the original character and proves to be the most remarkable and memorable aspect of the entire picture. The less said about the intentions and motivations of all the supporting characters, the better, but suffice to say that the likes of Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Hayley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson all give solid performances in their respective roles, and a few even smaller cameos from the like of Allison Janney and Laura Prepon are greeted with much enjoyment, especially for somebody like myself who is a big fan of both actresses.
Ultimately, it would be fair to say that The Girl On The Train proved to be a novel that just wasn’t as adaptable to the big screen as many would have hoped. The long, stream of consciousness type passages that were so effective in the novel where Rachel is clinging to her sanity and reaching for lost, drunken memories simply do not materialise as well when treated to thirty second snippets of cliche cinematic flashback, and as I said before, the slow burn nature that makes a novel so delicious and immersive unfortunately does quite the opposite when trying to tell a succinct story in two hours. Perhaps I have been too harsh, perhaps I cannot remove my original reading experience from my recent viewing experience, but I just cannot help but feel that the intense and consuming tension that I felt on the page last year has been lost in its transition to the big screen, despite a wonderful leading performance from the ever impressive Emily Blunt.