New ending comes as relief after dull movie

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‘The Girl on the Train’

Starring: Emily Blunt, Hayley Bennett

Directed by: Tate Taylor

Rated: R

 

I didn’t think it was possible to turn the Paula Hawkins’s page ripping thriller into something as dreadfully dull as this adaptation. Never mind that this has a different ending. That’s about the only improvement on the book, but by the end of this movie, it hardly mattered who killed poor Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) after the glacial pace it took getting to that denouement.

I even question the decision to move the setting stateside from the original London and vicinity. That’s why the casting of British actress Emily Blunt in the lead as poor Rachel, the jilted alcoholic ex-wife, made such sense. But that’s all jumbled up in a no-name suburb outside of NYC now with a coastal commuter train snaking suspiciously close to some very nice neighborhoods.

Rachel is a pathetic character — in the novel and as Blunt brings her to life. Divorced by her two-timing husband Tom (Justin Theroux), her stay with a friend (Laura Prepon) for a few weeks has turned into two years. Her job has also evaporated due to her excessive drinking, but she plays out the routine each day of riding the train to and from the city where she hangs out in the terminal bar sipping martinis until quitting time.

On the train rides, she’s become obsessed with a couple whose lives play out in the backyard and balcony of their home situated near the train track. Rachel imagines their perfect life together, but when Megan’s narrative takes over in the film, we learn life is not so perfect in her home. The third perspective woven into the movie is that of Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), Tom’s new wife, and it’s somewhat vague. We never really get to know her.

The decision to jump from different characters’ POVs – and back and forth in time, as well – doesn’t serve the movie. Rather than building suspense, it just creates confusion, and Taylor is not a strong enough director to hold it together. Readers of the book will recall Megan, who has a connection to almost all the characters, is murdered and Rachel, in her vodka haze, decides to help find her killer. The problem is she’s such an unreliable witness the cop (Allison Janney) begins to believe she is actually the killer.

As with the book, the circle of possible suspects is small, and once a tiny detail is revealed regarding an alibi, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who’s left that could have done the crime. So the ending, which plays out in a kind of clumsy stupor, is rather anti-climatic.

This was supposed to be this year’s “Gone Girl,” which, with the very capable David Fincher directing, was actually an excellent adaptation and a real credit to that best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. Right down the week this was released, it’s obvious that all involved were hoping to capture that elusive lighting in a bottle — twice.

Blunt, who very rarely stumbles, makes Rachel as sympathetic as possible, but brought to life from the pages of the book, it’s hard to like this miserable drunk. She’s a sad mess through most of the movie who seems destined to repeat her mistakes.

There is a coldness to this, unintended or not, that has little to do with the murder mystery, but seems to stem instead from Taylor’s decision to stick so closely to the material. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of creative license if it can breathe some life into something so inert. Short of the switched up ending, this is pretty much Hawkins’s book, page for page, and a valuable intangible quality is lost in the translation.

I enjoyed the book, but it lacked the depth of “Gone Girl.” Same for the movie version. This “Train” is headed nowhere.

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