Thu 5 Jan 2017
There are a few missed opportunities in The Girl on the Train directed by Tate Taylor bringing to screen Paula Hawkins‘s successful novel. The story starts like a voyeuristic drama involving three women (two of them resembling each other), two houses (resembling each other as well in a suburban area), two men, and one train which is the moving observation point from which flashes of the reality are perceived. Details are not clear from the beginning, the story builds up and so does our understanding of the characters and the drama that is taking place, which soon turns into a disappearance case. All this gradual assimilation of the events by the viewer is not a bad thing, it’s not an easy viewing, but it’s challenging intellectually and the later developments and its solution are eventually rewarding. There is however something ‘heavy’ in the director’s style that adds extra and unnecessary obstacles between the heroes and the viewers.
I did not read (yet) the book that inspired the film, but my understanding is that much if its interest derives from the fact that the story is told alternatively by the three women, each with her subjective point of view, each holding piece of the reality the way she sees it (or deforms it). The film tries to start this way using off-voice screen (which seldom works for me) but soon moves the weight center of the story to Rachel’s character played by Emily Blunt. We gradually come to know her as a broken person, victim of a disastrous marriage, alcoholic, voyeuristic, unable to forget and continuing to be obsessed by the life and the husband she lost. As the story develops she becomes involved as a witness, as a detective, as a prime suspect in the disappearance turning into a murder case. The cinematographic version of The Girl on the Train is very much a story about Rachel, about her obsessions and her fight to recover her own self.
The story offers the opportunity for three major and consistent feminine roles, an opportunity which only Emily Blunt uses well. This is not necessarily because Haley Bennett or Rebecca Ferguson are bad actors. but because the way they are directed is much more conventional and lacks complexity. The other surprise in acting is Luke Evans, who acts the other prime suspect, and the man who eventually will disperse the part of the fog on what really happened and who really Rachel is. The rest is left by the script (maybe also by the book) to fate.
Director Tate Taylor does not lack some good directing ides. See for example the alternate usage of fixed or hand-held camera, sometimes in the the same scene or filming the two actors of a dialog, He fails in constructing a better paced story telling. Some of this may be intentional in order to leave to viewers gradually discovering what the story is about. They did not lose me, but they risk losing many other viewers in search of an entertaining thriller. Trading pace and action for psychology is a risky proposal nowadays. I do not believe that the director won the bet.