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Movie Review: "The Girl on the Train"

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

The Girl on the Train

Theatrical Release: 10/7/2016

Theatrical Release: 10/7/2016

Synopsis

Megan (Haley Bennett) has a secret. She is in the middle of a love affair with a man (Luke Evans) and finds their affair to be exciting, but one day she goes out for a run and does not return. Something terrible has happened to her, but the police do not seem to have any leads regarding who is responsible, or why. Fortunately for the police, they have Rachel (Emily Blunt).

Rachel takes the commuter train to and from the city each day. On the day that Megan disappeared, Rachel saw her enter a tunnel, but never saw her come out. The police take this lead and run with it, but — with no other suspects — they begin to suspect Rachel. She is desperate to clear her own name and she is desperate to find out what happened to Megan, but she will surely be forced to confront her own troubled past in the process finding answers.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The ProsThe Cons

Emily Blunt (+4pts)

The Characters (-5pts)

Intense (+5pts)

Book Format (-6pts)

Haley Bennett & Rebecca Ferguson (+4pts)

Missing Information (-4pts)

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Pro: Emily Blunt (+4pts)

I did not like her character, but I thought Emily Blunt did a good job in this role. This character had her issues, but she was a complicated character that gave Emily Blunt a lot to work with. The movie aimed to tease the audience with the idea of Rachel's innocence. Thus, the viewer needed to be able to believe in either scenario in order for this to work effectively. In other words, you need an actress that could pull off this character in a way that you could see her being guilty just as easily as you could see her being innocent. I cannot imagine that this was an easy thing to pull off, all while also effectively bringing all of the character’s dramatic moments to the screen, but Emily Blunt played the role well.

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Con: The Characters (-5pts)

I am a strong believer in character flaws, but every main character in this movie had done something that simply made them unlikable. It made it hard to connect with the characters, because there were none that I could relate to. Almost every character in this movie had done something despicable. This just made it so that every bad thing that happened to them kind of felt like karma, and meant that I was not worried for any of them.

Movies only really work if you are able to put yourself in the story to some extent, and movies like this only really work if there is at least one character that you can connect with. In this movie, there were none. It was a movie filled with bad things happening to bad people. This meant that I was never fully invested in this story, which was a shame. The movie just felt like a sequence of events happening to a group of people that I did not care about.

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Pro: Intense (+5pts)

The characters in this movie went through a lot of dark, depressing, and dramatic moments. The plot of this movie was not great. I will get into my issues with the plot later, but one good thing about it was that it was intense. The things that these characters went through, their interactions with one another, and the things that they were doing added a ton of tension to the movie. While, again, I had my issues with the plot, the things that the characters were dealing with added the kind of thriller-style intensity that made it hard to look away from. The filmmakers could have done a better job at ironing out the script and delivering characters that the audience could care about, but they did a pretty good job of building tension.

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Con: Book Format (-6pts)

Probably my biggest problem with this movie was that it was formatted like a book. Now I am all for staying true to the source material where you can, but this was not the way it should have been done for this movie. There were three main female protagonists in this movie: Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Each time we met one of these three characters, the movie cut to a black screen and displayed their name.

Now, this is a perfect formatting strategy for a book because it tells the reader that they are shifting to a different point-of-view character. For a movie, this is unnecessary, and only makes the movie feel choppy. While this only happens three times, the rest of the movie is riddled with timeline changes like: 6 months ago, today, 4 months ago, last Friday, etc. Again this is fine in a book where you (the reader) are given more time to adjust to timeline changes, but in a movie that is only about two hours long, so many timeline changes are distracting and can make the story feel incoherent.

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Pro: Haley Bennett & Rebecca Ferguson (+4pts)

Haley Bennett played Megan, the woman who went missing, but the movie jumped back and forth in time, so Haley Bennett got plenty of screen-time. Rebecca Ferguson played Anna, Rachel's ex-husband's now wife. Anna is also Megan's neighbor, so is close to all of the action surrounding Megan. Anna also understandably finds it odd that Rachel is a witness in Megan's case (who Rachel does not know), as it implies that Rachel was probably spying on Anna and her husband.

This was really Rachel’s story, but both Megan and Anna played important roles in it. Both had their share of drama and tragedy along the way, and both Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson delivered strong performances in their respective roles. Neither actress delivered the kind of mind-blowing performance that will leave a lasting impression on you, but that is not what this movie needed from them. Both actresses delivered strong, effective performances for their respective characters, and this movie was certainly better for having them in these roles.

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Con: Missing Information (-4pts)

This was one of those movies in which the filmmakers aimed to keep their audience guessing. When movies do this effectively, it can be quite the thrill-ride, as it is always fun to try to predict where these plots are going and what twists and turns lie just around the corner. These movies can be a lot of fun whether you or right or wrong, but I find that they are most satisfying when they go in a direction that I do not expect. Unfortunately, I do not think the filmmakers of this movie did it effectively. Rather than have a mystery that characters are trying to uncover, the filmmakers just left puzzle pieces out to confuse the audience. It would be like if I asked you to complete a 20-piece puzzle, but kept the 10 middle pieces from you. Then, when you got confused, I would give you the remaining pieces, while pretending the puzzle was clever, because you were previously unable to guess what the image was.

That is what this movie felt like. The filmmakers left out key, important moments, then tried to pretend the confusion was due to their movie being a clever mystery. The entire movie was spent giving you only half the puzzle and playing it off as a compelling mystery. Then all of a sudden, during the last 20 minutes of the movie, the filmmakers dump the remaining pieces on your lap, and play it off as a great revelation. There could have been a decent mystery here, one where we were given pieces to the puzzle along with the primary protagonist. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seemed to have no idea how mysteries work, and kept key information that the characters knew from the audience in order to try to be make the story more mysterious than it was. The result was just disappointing.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: C- (73pts)

The Girl on the Train was hyped up to be like the next Gone Girl. It was aiming to be an intense and suspenseful thriller-mystery, but ended up suffering from a bunch of problems. To start, there was the book format. The movie constantly kept jumping back and forth in time, fading to black and displaying text like "1 month ago" or "today". The filmmakers also felt the need to do this when ever we met a new point-of-view character, which is very much unnecessary for a movie. The constant fade-to-black transitions made the movie feel choppy and incoherent.

This was not helped by the fact that the filmmakers did not convey their mystery properly. Rather than have one character discovering pieces to the puzzle along with the audience, the filmmakers left a bunch of key puzzle pieces off-screen and just sort of tossed them on the audience's plate at the end of the movie, which felt like a lazy attempt at making a mystery from filmmakers who did not know how to create a mystery. Then there were the unlikable characters that made it hard to relate to what was happening or care about the fate of those involved. Fortunately, the movie had a number of strong performances and the filmmakers did a good job building the tension, but these were not enough to save the movie entirely. At the end of the day, this movie had all the makings of an intense thriller-mystery like Gone Girl, but the filmmaker's poor execution made it a disappointing movie that fell very far short of its potential.

Available on Amazon (Rent/Buy)

Comments

Movie Beasts (author) from MA on May 23, 2020:

No, unfortunately they cannot.

Thanks, Matt!

Matt Brown from Pasadena on May 23, 2020:

Another well done review. Unfortunately, not every movie is good. Thanks for the heads up!