Conventional movie wisdom might dictate that a thriller or mystery is only as good as its “big reveal”. The best films of the genre, however, are the ones that remain compelling even once you know whodunnit – making the difference between watching it once and watching it over and over again.
The Girl On The Train (TGOTT) had the potential to be a classic in the vein of 2014’s Gone Girl. The two films have been drawing many comparisons, and not just for their similarities in title or because both are adaptations of books by female authors (Gone Girl by Gillian Glynn, TGOTT by Paula Hawkins). Both use marriage and suburban living as the premise for their mysteries, with complicated, even unlikeable, women at their centre.
But while Gone Girl only gets more compelling with repeat viewings, TGOTT struggles to hold our attention even the first time around.
It does start off on an intriguing note. Rachel (Emily Blunt) takes the train every day into New York City, and daily, watches a particular couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), as she passes by their suburban home. Struggling with her own alcoholism and a failed marriage, Rachel takes comfort in envisioning them to be the perfect couple.
One day, Rachel witnesses something shocking in the couple’s home, and before long, Megan is reported missing. When Rachel tries to figure out what happened, she finds herself being sucked deeper and deeper into the mystery, as her own past and connection to the events begin to unravel.
The pacing, however, drains the thrill out of the plot. While the movie initially uses intertitles to differentiate and tell the story from three women’s points of view – Rachel, Megan and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) – it seems to abandon this device fairly soon, and mostly follows Rachel around. This is a pity, because it changes what initially seemed like a layered mystery into a more straightforward one where the protagonist races to uncover the truth.
While Blunt’s portrayal of a woman teetering on the brink is excellent, the movie drags as it relies too much on the actress, to the exclusion of other characters who are later revealed to be important.
The rest of the cast is decent, but are not given enough to do. Bennett, in particular, puts in a memorable performance as a complicated woman with unexpected depths, while Justin Theroux is likeable as Rachel’s ex-husband.
The movie also has the annoying tendency to allude to certain events or happenings without ever fully developing them. Scott and Megan’s marriage, for instance, suffers from a skeletal depiction. Meanwhile, we are occasionally shown that the police are monitoring the situation, but they are hardly ever seen actually investigating anything.
This is where the multiple perspectives may have proven interesting; after all, shades of grey are so much more interesting in a mystery than simple black-and-white solutions. Part of the problem lies with the “big reveal” itself. While Gone Girl points to larger and darker truths within contemporary relationships, the mystery in TGOTT ends up being altogether more predictable and banal.
A deeper script and more skilful director may have been able to elicit something more out of these characters – there is so much potential for subtext in their situations – but the film mostly plays it safe.
Hence, when the truth behind the mystery is suddenly revealed in the last quarter, it hardly makes an impact. In fact, by that point, many may have figured it out on their own.
The Girl On The Train
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Luke Evans