Film #268: The Girl on the Train (2016)

tgottDirector: Tate Taylor
Language: English
Length: 112 minutes
Watched on: 23 Feb 2017

This film actually did have a Japan release… but it was very limited. I think it was only on in two screens in Tokyo. My choices were to go all the way to Ikebukuro, or wait around and get to it later at my leisure. I’m coming to the realization that I don’t think Japanese cinema audiences want to be challenged too much. They prefer something entertaining – a student told me the other day that documentaries aren’t popular here. Either that, or it’s just because the book hasn’t made any headway here like it has back home.

Speaking of the book, I read it last year (OK, I listened to the audiobook, but same difference). It’s fairly good. The twist is great and quite unexpected unless you know what you’re looking for. Watching the film, I already knew what was going to happen, so it wasn’t quite as shocking, but it definitely lends a creepy tone to some earlier scenes, such as when the main character Rachel is describing her alcoholism at an AA meeting.

The movie is basically faithful to the book, but for one critical detail – it’s been transplanted to America. Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, keeps her English accent as a nod to the book. This is generally fine, to be sure, but I think it changes the atmosphere of the setting a lot. The suburban houses in the book are big, yes, and the characters who own them are rich, but there’s also a claustrophobic and cramped feeling – in the movie, the houses are massive mansions with expansive gardens overlooking the Hudson river. In the book, some of the characters complain about the screeching noise of the train, pretty much right outside their back gardens – here it’s close enough to see the houses, but not close enough to bother the residents. As a result, it loses something of the original. It takes on more of a Stepford Wives quality.

But as I say, it’s still a very challenging film, and deals very frankly with alcoholism and abuse, and the central plot is a murder mystery. It’s not for everyone. I think it handled its subject well, and the various actors gave great performances. It doesn’t back down from the descriptions in the book. I’m just not sure it needed the setting change, and although I liked it and thought it was worth my time, I also thought it was missing some indistinct spark that the novel had.

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