The Girl on the Train is out now on gen­eral re­lease and is re­viewed on

Tate Tay­lor’s film works hard at stay­ing true to the source novel, but the sep­a­rate strands strug­gle to co­here, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Di­rected by Tate Tay­lor.

Star­ring Emily Blunt, Re­becca Fer­gu­son, Ha­ley Ben­nett, Justin Th­er­oux, Luke Evans, Al­li­son Jan­ney, Édgar Ramírez. 15A cert, gen re­lease, 109 min

In one of the several flats that poor drunk Rachel Wat­son (Emily Blunt) in­hab­its mis­er­ably in this di­vert­ing thriller, we spot, po­si­tioned con­spic­u­ously be­hind her left shoul­der, the box for a “1,000-piece” jig­saw puz­zle. Do adults still own such things? It feels a lit­tle like a pound­ing vis­ual com­men­tary on the en­ter­tain­ment it­self. If so, the gag says more than the film-mak­ers in­tended.

There is a great story here. Paula Hawkins’s best-sell­ing novel of­fers agree­able fem­i­nist cri­tiques – “What is it with you crazy women?” one bas­tard says – while spin­ning out a melo­drama that works hard at ty­ing up its loose ends.

The prob­lem is in the telling. Fail­ing to trans­late a lit­er­ary tech­nique into film, the pic­ture really does re­mind one of a jig­saw puz­zle. Pieces are scat­tered ran­domly about the ta­ble and then ham­mered to­gether in an un­sat­is­fac­tory or­der. As is too of­ten the case these days, some­body needed to tear the source ma­te­rial to shreds be­fore em­bark­ing on the adap­ta­tion.

This is not to say the film­mak­ers haven’t taken lib­er­ties. The story has been moved from Lon­don’s com­muter belt to Westch­ester County in New York (the same rules ap­ply there, so fair enough). A washed-out, over­weight wreck in the book, Rachel steps for­ward in the brisk, healthy frame of Blunt. English ac­cent in­tact, she does oc­ca­sion­ally wear no-make-up make-up. She pulls on jumpers that you wouldn’t wear to a job in­ter­view at Burger King. But, rather than look­ing ham­mered hol­low, she gives the im­pres­sion of a pretty healthy woman who’s just stood on a Lego brick.

What we have here is a multi-stranded vari­a­tion on Agatha Christie’s 4.50 From Padding­ton. Fol­low­ing an un­happy di­vorce from Tom (Justin Th­er­oux), Rachel now spends much of her day star­ing an­grily out the train win­dow while trundling past her old home on the way to New York City. When not fix­at­ing on Tom’s new wife Anna (Re­becca Fer­gu­son), she fan­ta­sises about the ap­par­ently ideal life en­joyed by their neigh­bours Scott (Luke Evans) and Me­gan (Ha­ley Ben­nett).

One day, she sees Me­gan with an­other man. Shortly af­ter that, the neigh­bour goes miss­ing. Rachel, prone to drunken black­outs, has been mak­ing nui­sance calls to Anna, and de­tec­tive Al­li­son Jan­ney – a daunt­ing no­tion, you’ll agree – won­ders if the pro­tag­o­nist may have as­saulted Me­gan think­ing her to be the other woman. Still with me?

It’s a well-or­gan­ised set-up and Hawkins has worked hard at de­liv­er­ing on its prom­ise. Cine­matog­ra­pher Char­lotte Bruus Chris­tensen, who did such good work on Far From the Madding Crowd, makes nice con­trast be­tween the gleam­ing sub­ur­ban homes and the shad­owy woods that abut civil­i­sa­tion.

The char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion is shal­low, but it is stir­ring to ex­pe­ri­ence a mar­quee thriller that con­cerns it­self largely with fe­male char­ac­ters. Un­for­tu­nately, the structure of the piece un­der­mines its am­bi­tions as a mys­tery yarn. The book told its story from three dif­fer­ent points of view: those of Rachel, Me­gan and Anna. The con­ceit is hon­oured in the open­ing scenes by im­pos­ing each name on the screen be­fore the rel­e­vant char­ac­ter is in­tro­duced.

But that sense of dis­crete per­spec­tives breaks down al­most im­me­di­ately. The film is called The Girl on the Train. The story is trig­gered by Rachel’s early ob­ser­va­tion. Blunt is by far the most charis­matic of the three fe­male leads. As a re­sult, those un­fa­mil­iar with the novel will in­sist on see­ing the story through Rachel’s eyes and will expect her to solve most of the mys­ter­ies.

In­stead, the movie seems, in the last act, to throw so­lu­tions and ex­pla­na­tions at us in ran­dom fash­ion. Miss Marple wouldn’t ap­prove. We’ll say it again. Faith­ful­ness to the source is not a virtue in it­self.

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