The Girl on the Train reviews: Emily Blunt stands out while thriller derails
Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train is launching on the wrong side of the tracks.
The Help director’s fifth feature film, released two years after his James Brown biopic Get On Up dazzled critics, is shaping up to be a far more polarizing venture than the Paula Hawkins book upon which it’s based. The best-selling thriller’s film adaptation stars Emily Blunt as a recently-divorced alcoholic who witnesses a shocking act as she peers into the home of a couple while commuting on a New York City MTA train.
Judging by early reviews, the subsequent mystery that unfolds, involving a revolving door of supporting characters played by Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Haley Bennett, Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, Luke Evans, and Lisa Kudrow, is bleak, stylistically disjointed, and treads far lighter (in terms of suspense and thematic weight) than similar titles from directors like David Fincher (Gone Girl) and Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window).
There are a few positives, however; while critics largely criticized Taylor’s direction and Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay, the film’s aesthetic elements, including Danny Elfman’s score and Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography, are being noted as highlights.
Blunt’s lead performance is being hailed as the film’s strongest element, with EW’s Leah Greenblatt calling her work “remarkably vivid” in her A- review, while Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman says the film around her works less as a big-screen thriller and more as “112 minutes of upscale psychodramatic confessional bad-behavior porn” which “generates a voyeuristic zing that’s sure to carry audiences along.”
Check out what the critics are saying about The Girl on the Train before the film hits theaters nationwide this Friday, Oct. 7.
Leah Greenblatt (EW)
“Director Tate Taylor (The Help) doesn’t bring the kind of stylistic dazzle that David Fincher, his fellow helmer in literary It Girl depravity, lavished on Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. But he deftly translates the bleak, raw-boned menace and tricky time signatures of Train’s intertwined plotlines, and draws remarkably vivid performances from his cast, particularly his two female leads. Blunt and Bennett aren’t girls at all; they’re women on the edge of their own oblivion, wounded and furious and chillingly real.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“Emily Blunt excels as the broken-down heroine of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller: a fragmented thriller soap opera of sex, booze, violence, and postfeminist empathy… As a big-screen thriller, “The Girl on a Train” is just so-so, but taken as 112 minutes of upscale psychodramatic confessional bad-behavior porn, it generates a voyeuristic zing that’s sure to carry audiences along.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“But this hottest of literary properties lands with a lukewarm splat on the movie screen: a guessable contrivance with a biggish plothole. Lieutenant Columbo could have sorted it in five minutes. The complicated web of narrator-switches, flashbacks and POV-shifts seems clotted and Emily Blunt – usually so witty and stylish – is landed with a whingy, relentlessly weepy role in which her nose hardly ever resumes its natural colour… Emily Blunt does her considerable best with this exasperating and plaintive role. In movies from The Devil Wears Prada to Sicario, she has shown that she can look good while being ill or messed up: strong, believable, human, vulnerable. But this part doesn’t give her any scope for recovery, for the all-important mastery and survival: she just always looks under the weather. This doesn’t give her half the juice and outrageous fun that Rosamund Pike had from Gone Girl. Fans of Paula Hawkins’s thriller might find themselves sticking to the book.”
David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
“Imagine if Gone Girl had been developed as a toothless network television pilot — if it had been stripped of its subversive approach to gender dynamics, bludgeoned free of its sadistic gallows humor and shot like a very special episode of NCIS: Suburbia. Imagine if it hadn’t been directed by a filmmaker who’s drawn to trash the way that most people are to perfume, someone who genuinely believes you can learn as much about marriage and misogyny from the novels sold at an airport bookstore as you can from those taught in a college classroom. Imagine instead that it had been directed by the guy who made The Help… At least Hitchcock had Salvador Dalí on hand to help spice up his sets — Taylor only has the MTA. He’s only interested in shooting the surface of things, as though something can’t possibly exist if it’s not dead in the center of an uncluttered medium shot. His camera dissuades the story from engaging with whatever depth was there in the first place, every frame so boring that it’s almost as though the movie is gaslighting its audience into thinking that Hawkins’ book was bad to begin with.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“A morose, grim and intensely one-dimensional thriller about an alcoholic’s struggle to make sense of a close-to-home murder as well as her own mind, this major fall release from Universal can count on a panting public to pack multiplexes upon its October 7 opening. But this train may hit a yellow commercial light sooner than expected down the line… The lone creative element to command coercive interest here is Elfman’s score, which employs sonic currents of tonal irregularities, pulsations and mood instigators rather than melodies, typical tension tropes or any of his trademark gambits from the Tim Burton collaborations. He almost makes the film seem good from time to time.”
Robert Abele (The Wrap)
One presumes the hiring of Tate Taylor to direct the screenplay adaptation by Erin Cressida Wilson (Men, Women & Children) had to do with Taylor’s previous handling of a story involving multiple women in The Help. But when you’ve been spoiled by the dark, meticulous David Fincher lending his artistry to paperback potboilers with Girl in the title (one with a Dragon Tattoo, one Gone) — even when they’re not his best work — Taylor’s flat commercial instincts make for diminishing returns. For a movie built on the voyeuristic pull of lives lived in full view of strangers, and the secrets people hide in plain sight, The Girl on the Train is anything but the kind of elegantly skeevy pulp made disreputably fun by a DePalma or Verhoeven, or the twisted psychodrama that calls to mind Hitchcock or Haneke. Instead, the overall mood created by the crummy, pinched visuals and logic-strained rhythm is of something scanned and discarded, like a tabloid article or a Lifetime movie.”