The book or the film, the film or the book? Like fellow literary bestseller and psychological thriller Gone Girl, I had read the book before seeing this US film adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. Although the book is always better, when it’s a story that relies heavily on mystery and suspense, knowing the ending significantly affects enjoyment of the film. The subsequent lack of curiosity about what is going to happen also leaves too much time to notice differences.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) catches the same train to work each day and obsessively watches her former house as she passes, now inhabited by her ex-husband and his pretty blonde wife and their baby. She also watches a couple who live a few houses away, imagining their life as the perfect couple, spotting brief glimpses of them as the train thunders past.
Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is the young wife of Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux). She resents Rachel’s obsession with them, the constant alcohol-fuelled texts and phone calls, and she fears for the safety of her baby. Megan (Haley Bennett) is the neighbour whose life and relationship is not so idyllic. She babysits for Anna and struggles to be content with husband Scott (Luke Evans). One evening, Rachel staggers from the station near the houses and blacks out. The next day, bruised and bloody, she learns that Megan is missing. So begins the mystery – is Megan dead? Who is responsible? How damaged is Rachel? Can she trust her own memories? How did her life end up like this?
The film does a good job to build the characters of the three women. In the book, Rachel’s alcoholism and hopelessness is more slowly revealed whereas in the film it is front and centre. Initially it makes her less likeable but Blunt’s awkward, bullish vulnerability wins us over. Not surprisingly the story is set in New York state rather than London. This makes little difference other than to make it a little unbelievable that Rachel could see so well into sprawling houses so far from the train line. In the book, those closely-spaced London houses sit cheek by jowl with the railway, making Rachel’s inability to avoid seeing, to look away from her past, so much more understandable.
Some of the depth of the book is kept, particularly the exploration of abusive relationships and the complex process of recognising them and escaping. The ending is satisfying although perhaps not completely unexpected.
Available on DVD.
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