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The Girl on the Train: Movie Review

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the-girl-on-the-train-3In The Girl on the Train, Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a young woman with an overactive imagination, takes the city-bound train every morning and sits on the third car next to a window. From her seat, she has the perfect view of 15th Beckett Street, where an attractive childless couple live (played by Luke Evans and Hayley Bennett). Every morning and evening, Rachel bares witness to their quotidian existence as she watches them eat, laugh, cuddle, kiss and even make love. They are both a source of veneration and envy for our protagonist, a lonely person who has plunged deeper into alcoholism and self-pity since her divorce. It doesn’t help that two doors down from the perfect couple’s home lives her ex-husband and his new wife, Tom and Anna Watson (Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson, respectively). As the story unfolds, a sudden character disappearance, with the help of unreliable narration and fragmented plotting, pulls the rug out from under Rachel and makes for an interesting cat-and-mouse game.

the-girl-on-the-train-2On synopsis and setting alone, The Girl on the Train bears numerous resemblances to David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014). Both movies deal with the disappointment and treacheries of suburban housewifery. Both movies place unreliable female narrators at the center, unfulfilled women who disclose their stories in splotchy bits, and who turn out to be less innocent and more devious in their storytelling as the movies unravel. However, where the movies diverge is in quality. Where Gone Girl effectively transferred the nuances and details of its sourcebook, The Girl on a Train ditches the delectable, florid details of Paula Hawkins’ novel of the same name. It even transfers the story across the Atlantic to New York, a move that adds nothing substantial to the film and actually nixes the book’s expert use of British milieu and idiosyncrasies. Not to imply that Hawkins’ book is a flawless literary feat, but it’s at least a very enjoyable read that keeps you on your toes.

the-girl-on-the-train-4That’s not so much the case with Tate Taylor’s adaptation. His first mistake was probably forgetting to hire Paula Hawkins to adapt her own novel (something David Fincher did with Gone Girl). Erin Cressida Wilson tries to pack as much story and voyeuristic pleasure as she possible can into her script. Unfortunately, the plotting feels too heavy-handed, nastily manipulative, and, worst of all, hindering to its actors. Whereas story revelations in the book colored the characters in surprising ways, the emerging backstories and twists that emerge from the movie only serve to turn the characters into implausible human props to serve an agenda. Taylor’s heavy use of close-ups doesn’t help. I get it: he’s trying not only to amp up the suspense, but get us to read every facial expression and tic. However, it doesn’t work. It constricts the actors and doesn’t let the characters breathe. There’s a point in the movie where after a series of close-ups and tight frames we get an aerial view of Rachel’s train that’s actually insignificant but feels so welcoming after such suffocating camerawork.

the-girl-on-the-train-1If there’s anything to learn from The Girl on the Train, it’s that a committed actor really can sustain a mediocre-to-bad movie afloat, even make it bearable. Emily Blunt steals the show as Rachel Watson. Blunt, who proved Oscar-worthy back-to-back in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Sicario (2015), takes advantage of every scene to make an impression. The British star has played paranoid, taciturn women before, but here she’s unhinged like we’ve never seen her before. There’s a scene in a public bathroom where Blunt’s Rachel films an iPhone video for her ex-hubby that shows off the actress’s actorly bravado. The scene juxtaposes how an actor can brilliantly play an out-of-control character with masterful control. You can’t take your eyes off her the whole time. For that scene alone I urge you to visit this movie.

The Girl on the Train (2016)
Director:  Tate Taylor
Studio:  Universal and DreamWorks
Genre:  Drama, Crime
MPAA:  R
Release Date:  October 7th, 2016
Author:  Braulio Ramirez
Braulio Ramirez Braulio Ramirez is a graduate from the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in history and contributed to The Daily Californian as a movie critic. He currently resides in San Diego, California, where he was born and raised, and now spends most of his time discovering new coffee places to load up on caffeine and inspiration. On his spare time, he tries to write.

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