Adaptations of literature for the screen are always a risky proposition. This is especially the case for books that have become classics or contemporary best sellers. The fans expect a certain amount from the film treatment including certain cast members and few changes in the flow of the story. The Girl On The Train was the summer read of 2015. When the movie was announced the main issue was the decision to move the setting from Buckinghamshire in England to the east coast of the USA. If anything, this enhanced the film.
Rachel Watson spends her days on the train commuting to New York city. Each day she sits in the same carriage and watches the same people go about their lives in the houses beside the tracks. A divorcee she is struggling to keep it together as one of the houses is the home she made with her husband. Rachel relies on alcohol to get her through the day. She sits in a semi permanent state of inebriation. One of the couples that Rachel observes look to be the ideal couple. Loving and sharing, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) represent everything that Rachel has lost. They live only two doors down from her old home now inhabited by her ex (Justin Theroux), his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child. Her dream is shattered one Friday when she spots the Megan on the balcony of her house with another man. This sends Rachel into a downward spiral. She elects to confront her ex that evening. Of course, she gets drunk first. This results in a blurry memory of a confrontation. When she awakes the next day, Rachel is covered in blood and the television news main feature is the story of the disappearance of Megan.
First of all, I must confess that I have not read the book so I cannot contrast and compare. Sometimes this is best as having a pre-determined idea can skew the enjoyment. The film uses a fractured timeline and the main character of Rachel to keep the suspense alive for the run time of the movie. The various scenes give just a little information at a time which keeps the audience guessing.
Using Rachel as the narrator is a very good move. As she struggles with alcoholism, she is recounting the story from her perspective. It becomes clear that she has gaps in her memory and she cannot be relied on to give a reasonable account of the facts. This is consistent with the air of mystery. We also see that Rachel is not a nice person. She may be the major character but she has few traits that the audience can sympathise with. In fact, there are no characters that we can relate to in a positive way. It makes for a compelling drama.
Emily Blunt gives a nuanced performance as Rachel. The character veers wildly from a subdued and downbeat rejected wife to a loud and angry drunk. She makes Rachel seem very believable in the turmoil that is her life. It would have been all too easy to make the character a one note hysterical alcoholic which would have been fine but nothing special.
Where the film stumbles is in the last third. Without going into detail, it falls back on the standard tropes in order to tie everything up. It certainly ties everything up but there is a little bit too much in the way of explanatory scenes. Sometimes it is best to leave some things to the imagination. A minor point but one worth noting.
Overall, an engaging drama with a very fine central performance.