Rachel can’t move on.
Everyday the commuter train she rides takes her past the house where she had lived with her husband, now exhusband. Tom still lives in the house, with his wife Anna and their daughter, Evie. A few houses down lives Scott and Megan Hipwell, the perfect couple. Rachel doesn’t know them, but she sees them from the train window, invents names for them, and imagines their perfect life. All of this in an alcoholic daze, because Rachel drinks. She drinks everyday, all day, until she blacks out. One night, she detrains at her old stop, in the neighborhood where Tom lives. The next morning, she wakes up from her blackout. What happened during the lost hours? She senses something horrible. When she learns Megan Hipwell has gone missing, her need to know turns desperate.
Directed by Tate Taylor, The Girl on the Train is a film adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel by the same name. I read and reviewed the novel in May and found it an excellent read. As we want psychological thrillers to be, it was tense and suspenseful, filled with twists and revelations, surprises and mystery. The movie, written by Erin Cressida Wilson, finds the spirit of the novel. Though it wasn’t as tense or suspenseful as the novel—something is always lost in adaptation—it created an intriguing chemistry between three women and three men and tells the story about the tragedy they shared. On one level, it’s a simple whodunit; on a deeper level, it is an exploration of the complexity of the modern relationship, an examination of abuse—substance, emotional, and physical abuse—and a study of psychological impact of lost and regret.The plot and the characters are faithful to the book, but they did relocate the setting from London to New York. I found myself more disappointed by that change than I expected, perhaps because I was excited to see the places named in the novel. But I think my disappointment is deeper than that. The events as they played out on screen didn’t quite feel like a New York story. In a very real sense, the commuter train and its route into the city feels like the main setting. By uprooting it and importing it into the United States, they rob the story of some of its tension. This is my main complaint with the adaptation. I wonder why they made the change. Did they think placing it in the United States would broaden appeal with American audiences? Or having cast mostly American actors, they felt the need to relocate?
Talking about the cast, they performed well. Emily Blunt plays Rachel. She’s a woman struggling to hold it together, who somehow thinks alcohol will help, but who realizes that her drinking is why things fell apart for her. Blunt plays a convincing lush, but I fear the movie didn’t make enough of her drinking or her efforts to stop. From drunk to sober is Rachel’s emotional arc in the novel, but I fear the move sanitized her drinking, so it robbed the movie of that arc. As far as performances, I can’t decided whether Blunt or Haley Bennett as Megan Hipwell deserves the most praise. With her beauty and her suburban life, she seems to have it all, but she carries with her a restlessness and a guilt that drives her to self-destruction. Both Blunt and Bennett takes turn with emotional reveals. Abuse and inner turmoil are the main themes of The Girl on the Train, and that required powerful acting. Both actresses deliver. I left the theater wishing there were more scenes with them.Of the other cast members, Justin Theroux plays Tom, and Luke Evans plays Scott Hipwell. I have no complains about their performances, nor with the performance of Edgar Ramirez as Dr. Kamal Abdic. With the blond hair, arranged in a similar style, Rebecca Ferguson as Anna looked so much like Bennett that I sometimes was confused which one I was looking at. That confusion ended during dialogue, because the two women were nothing alike. Anna had a bigger role in the novel than she did in the movie, and I think that also added to my confusion of characters. It was fun seeing Laura Prepon and Lisa Kudrow in the movie, but neither had a big role.
There is no pretension in The Girl on the Train. At its heart, it’s a psychological thriller. That is the movie it promises and the movie it delivers. It’s not as tense or suspenseful as other thrillers, and it could’ve done with a few more twists and turns before the final confrontation. But it’s a faithful adaptation of Hawkins’ novel. Though, since I had read the novel, I knew the ending, there was still enough in the movie to draw me into the story and keep me watching to the end.