Writing a good adaptation is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. The writer not only has to ensure that the story, characters, and themes of the original work have fidelity to their source material, but they also have to ensure that those elements are presented in such a way that is conducive to the medium they are being translated to. Alas, this is the pitfall that The Girl On The Train has succumbed to, as it functions more as a dramatized book report than it does a cohesive and compelling thriller.
Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, a struggling divorcee alcoholic with an obsessive fascination for a married couple she sees every day out the window of the train on her commute to the city. When the wifely half of the couple goes missing after Rachel sees her with another man, Rachel feels it necessary to investigate the disappearance, particularly because the police are not inclined to believe the word of a mentally unstable drunk. Through the course of the narrative, we not only receive flashbacks to the wife’s life in the months leading up to her disappearance, but also scenes from the perspective of Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, who fears how Rachel’s instability could affect her marriage and her infant child.
If one were to judge the quality of The Girl On The Train based entirely on its fidelity to the source material, they wouldn’t have much to complain about. Dialogue and scenes are lifted directly from the book with minimal manipulation to events and sequencing, but the film’s telling of the story is tedious and mechanical in its execution. Rarely does the film ever build a sense of tension, even as a woman is missing and a community is supposedly in frantic search for her. A number of plot threads that functioned as red herrings in the book dangle limply here, unconvincing in their inability to distract and thereby making the mystery’s conclusion all the more obvious to even the passive viewer. For a mystery thriller, such a lack of attention to tension is enough to leave a film dead in the water.
The film’s one saving grace is Blunt, who gives a fantastic performance as a woman struggling with her alcoholic compulsions while unsure of her own sanity and reality. As usual, she is a compelling performer, but she unfortunately doesn’t have much of a supporting cast to help her elevate the material. Without exception, the other players are directed to serve their executive plot functions with the minimum personality and character necessary to move the plot along. Aside from moments when the plot demands it, the characters are flat non-entities who don’t seem to exist outside of the director’s dollhouse manipulations.
Fans of the book were hoping that this would be the next cinematic equivalent to Gone Girl, and it seems that Universal Pictures banked on that hope without getting appropriate talent on board to make it a reality. Gone Girl had the guiding hand of David Fincher to dig into the thematic roots of the novel in order to craft a dark and chilling tale for the screen. Director Tate Taylor is much less an auteur and his lack of passion for this project shows through with insufferable clarity. The only one who actually seems to give a damn is Blunt, but one great performance cannot always carry a film. This material deserved a better adaptation, something more than the cold recitation that we got. Unfortunately, that train has left the station, and the destination isn’t worth the ticket price.