The Girl on the Train review: "This year’s Gone Girl? Not a chance"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Guilty of being slavishly loyal, Taylor’s film never quite translates into the cinematic equivalent of Hawkins’ page-turner. Blunt, though, is excellent.

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Taken from the runaway bestseller by Paula Hawkins, Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get On Up) film is a faithful take – perhaps /too/ faithful – on this marital mystery tale. For the uninitiated, like Christopher Nolan’s Memento before it, it centres on an unreliable memory-addled narrator – only here it’s booze not a blow to the head that’s left our lead in a foggy cloud of unknowing.

Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, an increasingly alcohol-dependant New York commuter who rides the train to work every day, glancing wistfully at two houses on her journey. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his former mistress/now wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby; the other to a couple she doesn’t know – Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (The Magnificent Seven’s Hayley Bennett).

Fantasising about this mystery pair, Rachel also can’t stop calling her ex – much to the chagrin of Anna. But everything changes the day Rachel glimpses Megan on her balcony kissing another man. Shortly afterwards, she disappears – the very same night Rachel is blind-drunk. When she wakes up the next day, bloody, bruised and unable to remember anything clearly, Rachel starts trying to piece together events.

Was she a witness to Megan’s demise? Is she a possible suspect? Scripted by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary), The Girl on the Train struggles to find an elegant structure. True, Hawkins’ book, written from the perspective of its three female characters and layered with flashbacks, is a difficult one to translate. The immediate casualty is Anna, leaving the dyed-blonde Ferguson a virtual bystander.

More impressive is Haley Bennett, who captures the restless spirit of the art gallery employee-turned-nanny Megan. While Justin Theroux is rather too mannequin-like as Tom, Luke Evans is credible as the frantic, temper-frayed Scott. The support – Édgar Ramírez as Megan’s shrink, Allison Janney as the lead cop – also offers some texture.

While transposing the action from London to New York’s outskirts doesn’t jar as much as some readers feared, what does distract is the Taylor’s direction. The biggest sticking point? A key scene set in a tunnel, where repeated use of slow motion feels like an amateurish attempt to replicate the workings of a befuddled mind.

Fortunately, Blunt keeps the film anchored. Playing drunk convincingly is no mean feat, but she cracks it, maintaining our sympathy for a character who has gradually slipped towards becoming a functioning alcoholic. Looking blotchy and unsteady on her feet, she never plays it for laughs but with an air of desperation, as if solving this mystery may be her last chance. But this year’s Gone Girl? Not a chance.

More info

DirectorTate Taylor
StarringEmily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson
Theatrical releaseOctober 5, 2016
Available platformsMovie
Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.