Paula Hawkins’ runaway bestseller “The Girl on the Train” (** OUT OF ****) may have been an exciting, suspenseful, murder-mystery to peruse, but the adaptation by “Help” director Tate Taylor and “Secretary” scenarist Erin Cressida Wilson is a tedious tale to watch. Memorable murder mysteries must contain a large enough selection of characters that could have committed the murder so the dastard’s identity isn’t initially obvious. “The Girl on the Train” features only one character who possibly could have committed the crime. The other two characters that Taylor and Wilson offer as red herrings to lead us astray aren’t nearly sinister enough to pass muster. Taylor and Wilson don’t allow the other two apparent suspects an adequate amount of screen time to fully establish their incriminating credentials. Indeed, a pair of first-rate sleuths like either Jessica Fletcher of “Murder, She Wrote” or Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Jane Marple could have solved the case long before the filmmakers unveiled the killer’s identity. Predictably, Taylor and Wilson implicate the heroine from the start. Rarely, however, rarely does the heroine turn out to be a villain in a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster, especially when the protagonist is portrayed as a raving drunk. Were this simple violation of murder-mystery melodramas not enough to derail “The Girl on the Train,” the next worst thing is the characters numbing lack of appeal. The heroine is depicted as such a passive victim that she inspires either little sympathy or respect. Furthermore, she struggles to follow in the footsteps of Jessica and Jane but with far less success. Typically, the murderer turns out to be the least suspicious person. This is far from the case with “The Girl on the Train.” The villain is so evident from the get-go that you’ll leave this atmospheric R-rated thriller wondering why the filmmakers wasted so much time—112 minutes—to unravel the whodunit.
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt of “The Devil Wear Prada”) doesn’t fool anybody with her deplorable behavior. She divides her time between chugging vodka from a water bottle and cruising on a commuter train to and from Manhattan. Incidentally, the filmmakers have uprooted British author Paula Hawkins’s yarn and transplanted it from England to America. Once upon a time, poor little Rachel was married to an uptight, conservative businessman, Tom Watson (Justin Theroux of “Mulholland Drive”), but fate foiled their plans to forge a family. Rachel desperately wanted to be a mommy, but she was crushed when she couldn’t get pregnant. Ultimately, Rachel divorced Tom and walked away with enough alimony to pay for vodka galore to plunge herself into the sinkhole of alcoholism but also to afford rent with a roommate. Not long after her divorce, Rachel lost her job at a public relations firm because she had crawled into the bottle. As the action unfolds, Rachel confides in us that she loves to fantasize about the residents that she watches as he rides back and forth to New York City. If you’ve ever ridden a train and observed the inhabitants that live along the railway, you’d know how easy it is to adopt her perspective. One day our heroine spots a happily married woman in the arms of a man who isn’t her husband! Later, she learns that this happily married lady has been brutally murdered. The individual who killed her literally stomped the life out of her lovely face and left her to rot in the wilderness. Meanwhile, our heroine visits the murdered woman’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans of “Dracula Untold”), because she thinks that she knows the murderer’s identity. Eventually, veteran N.Y.P.D. Detective Riley (Allison Janney of television’s “Mom”), shows up to question Rachel about the disappearance of Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett of “Hardcore Henry”) but Riley gets nowhere. Riley knows enough about the disreputable Rachel to know that she cannot be trusted to provide any suitable information. Furthermore, she knows Rachel has incriminated herself enough that she could be the murderer. We learn that Rachel abhors Tom because he married another woman, and they were able to have a gorgeous little one. In fact, Tom is so affluent that not only does his second wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”), not have to work for a living, but he has also furnished her with a nanny. Meanwhile, another presumably happily married woman, Megan Hipwell yearns to get pregnant and flings herself in front of anybody willing to accommodate her. Megan cannot tolerate Scott’s jealous, manipulative shenanigans, and she seeks solace in the arms of her psychiatrist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramírez of “Point Break”), but he holds her at arm’s length.
One of the problems with “The Girl on the Train” is the incomprehensible way that director Tate Taylor and scenarist Erin Cressida Wilson tell their tale. They scramble the chronology of the events so thoroughly that you wind up confused by the various flashbacks. Furthermore, the filmmakers indulge in the abusive psychological practice of gaslighting like the author. This occurs when one character convinces another that the latter is guilty of everything in the world despite their inherent innocence. Our misguided heroine learns one day on her train rides that she has been pumped full of misinformation about herself. The revelation stuns her as much as it will stun those who haven’t devoured the Hawkins bestseller. Anybody who craves a good mystery knows from the start that the author will endeavor to mislead them. Nevertheless, the gaslighting gimmick is one of the lowest forms of misinformation because neither the victim nor the spectator has any idea that they have been misguided until it is too late. Ultimately, the villain exposes himself, and nothing about this revelation is surprising. The heroine exonerates herself of all the chaos that she has created for herself when she vanquishes the villain, but the triumph seems rather hollow. Altogether, “The Girl on the Train” qualifies as a potboiler that denies us little sense of gratification in the villain’s demise.