I seem to be in the minority of people who actually thoroughly enjoyed reading The Girl on the Train. When I picked up the book two years ago, it was receiving rave reviews. After reading it and loving it, I was very surprised to see that many reviewers on Goodreads couldn’t stand the book! It may have been because this book was one of the first of its kind that I’d read, but I thought it was very well-written and I was completely caught off-guard by the ending. I was excited to see the movie version when it came out the following year, but somehow managed to miss it until today, when I finally got a copy from the library to watch. I think it actually really helped that I watched the movie so long after reading the book, because the experience was pretty fresh and almost prevented me from comparing the two.
The basic premise of The Girl on the Train is that a woman named Rachel, taking the same commuter train every day, becomes obsessed with a couple she sees through the train window every day. She imagines a perfect life for this couple, until one morning where she sees something that completely destroys this image. After a night of drinking, Rachel wakes up injured and with no memory of what happened the night before only to learn that the woman she has been watching has gone missing. Rachel becomes convinced that what she saw is relevant to the case and goes to the police, and becomes heavily involved in trying to piece together her memories of that night and what might have happened.
As with most thrillers, it is difficult to describe too much of the plot without giving anything away. The movie version stays incredibly true to the novel, which is a rarity for adaptations. When I first read the book, I was completely absorbed in the storyline and trying to figure out what happened. Being two years after reading it, I did not remember too much of the details, and especially barely remembered the ending. I actually was sure they had changed the ending until I went online afterwards and double-checked how the book had ended, discovering that it was the same. I was impressed by how well the movie managed to recapture the same experience I had when first reading the book. I was completely absorbed and invested in the plot, and still thought that it was a well-crafted story with a genuine twist at the end. I was surprised by how many reviewers of the book complained that the ending was predictable. Maybe it was my own inexperience with thrillers at the time, but I had no idea what to expect.
One of the major criticisms I’ve found about this book is how unlikable all of the characters were. Personally, I found the characters all very compelling and more troubled than unlikable. Both versions of the story quickly established Rachel as an unreliable narrator due to alcoholism, and it is her unreliability that really drives the story along. The film does a great job of showing Rachel as a depressed, lonely woman who drinks to the point of blacking out. The flashbacks and memory fragments used to show how Rachel understands what happens in her life kept me trying to piece things together alongside her. I did not find her unlikable at all. Emily Blunt, one of my favourite actresses, did a brilliant job of portraying Rachel perfectly. I was a little worried when she was cast because she did not seem to fit the character, but she really brought Rachel to life.
The cast also consisted of Justin Theroux as Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband, and Rebecca Ferguson as Anna, Tom’s new wife and mother of his child. Aside from her fixation on the couple she watches from the train, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett), Rachel also is struggling to move on from the dissolution of her marriage to Tom and especially resents his new family. I was not very familiar with any of these actors before this movie, except for Luke Evans who recently played Gaston in the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, but I thought they all were strong choices for their characters. All of the characters in this movie have several layers, and I thought the actors were all very convincing and made their characters seem very real and human. They all brought a depth to their characters which brought them out of the “unlikable” label, and instead made them complex, fully-developed individuals. To be fair, I thought that was true in the novel as well, despite it receiving so many complaints about how all of the characters seemed to be horrible people. Without revealing too much, I will just say that I think the story works better because of how the characters are written, and it may not have been so effective if they were more “likable.”
Once again, this is the most difficult aspect for me to review because it is always the part that is least memorable for me. While watching the movie, I thought the cinematography and music both worked well to create a creepy atmosphere, and I especially liked how Rachel’s flashbacks were captured to leave the audience doubting her just as much as the other characters did. During flashbacks, images were often blurred or fragmented to show how Rachel saw things. The cinematography was also used very effectively to maintain the mystery/thriller aspects, letting the twist come as a true surprise. I thought it was very well-done.
I was very impressed with this adaptation, and it is quite rare for me to see a book-to-movie adaptation where I am not left constantly comparing the two. Even if the movie did stray away from the strict text, it definitely captured the spirit of the story very effectively. I went into the movie expecting a mediocre adaptation, and instead I got a well put together thriller that was just as engaging as the original novel. The cast did a brilliant job capturing the characters, and this really helped to make the movie so compelling. I would definitely recommend it, although those who already did not enjoy the novel probably won’t enjoy this either.
Plot – 10/10
Characters/Casting – 9/10
Visuals/Music – 9/10
Overall – 9.5/10
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