Having Tate Taylor direct your sleazy erotic thriller is like inviting a quaker into a titty bar, or goading an eagle scout into a coke den – they’re going to kill the mood. He’s simply too chaste to adequately approach this material. It’s almost like Taylor feels ashamed of signing on to make an R-rated film as he’s making it. This is material primed for any era Brian De Palma, and they give it to the guy who made The Help. This story and characters are so juicy, ripe for gleeful/cynical enjoyment. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel (Emily Blunt) a boozy divorcee who watches an idyllic couple each day from the train to the city, becoming obsessed with the wife Megan (Haley Bennett), who also happens to the be the nanny of her ex-husband’s (Justin Theroux) baby with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). One day, Megan goes missing and Rachel is convinced she knows who and why because of something she saw from the train. Lots of intrigue, lots of paranoia and too many people having an affair to count. It’s begging to have the dirty Hitchcock vibe of De Palma with a side of softcore. For example, Edgar Ramirez, a supreme talent that Hollywood still has no clue what to do with, plays a sexy therapist named Kamal Abdic (pronounced Ab-Dick). PRONOUNCED AB-DICK. Come on! This should have been glorious sleaze, especially with a name like that. Taylor doesn’t seem to have any opinion on this ripe material other than he hopes his parents don’t see it.
The cast is fantastic, you can’t assemble a cast like this and not expect them to do well. Emily Blunt is great in this role, capably handling alcoholism and paranoia. Taylor makes Rachel the loudest kind of alcoholic, but Blunt makes the ham of it riveting. Not every actress could rise above Taylor’s muddled direction, but Blunt can. She’s giving Oscar worthy in a film that wouldn’t even be daytime television emmys worthy. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson’s characters don’t quite make it out of their archetypes, but they equally captivating to watch. Justin Theroux, Luke Evans and Allison Janney do more than the roles they’re given.
I haven’t read the book, but the film adaptation feels like a slapped together imitation of Gone Girl, like the studio sat there as Gone Girl raked in money and acclaim two years ago and went “Shit guys, what do we have?” Perhaps it’s unfair to compare it to Fincher’s masterpiece, but there’s just too many similarities to ignore. It’s clearly in reaction to Gone Girl, yet a missed attempt to recreate the buzz around that film. Taylor doesn’t have the focus or precision that Fincher does, nor a sense of thrill, comedy or any core emotion.
Taylor just kind of plods along, and eventually you just stop caring about who murdered who, and the revelations don’t shock or enlighten. The film wants to be shocking and dangerous, but is too scared to offend or be challenging. It wants the buzz without the intrigue. Where Fincher went gleefully into the gory and scandalous of Gone Girl, Taylor keeps cutting away from any image that could be remotely titillating. The roles feel severely underwritten, the editing haphazard, relying on choppy slow-motion editing to suggest intrigue. With the right filmmaker, it’s still doubtful that it would have risen to high art like Gone Girl, but hey, at least it could have been fun.