The Girl On A Train
Based on the novel by Paula Hawkins
Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson
Directed by Tate Taylor
Music by Danny Elfman
5th October 2016
Emily Blunt as Rachel Watson
Haley Bennett as Megan Hipwell
Rebecca Ferguson as Anna, Tom’s new wife
Justin Theroux as Tom Watson, Rachel’s ex-husband
Luke Evans as Scott Hipwell, Megan’s husband
Edgar Ramirez as Dr Kamal Abdic, Megan’s psychotherapist
Laura Prepon as Cathy
Allison Janney as Detective Riley
Lisa Kudrow as Martha, Tom’s boss’s wife
Darren Goldstein – the man in the suit
We’re straight into the One Day / The Da Vinci Code / Book Thief issue. We take a #1 bestselling novel that people know and love. Much of the appeal of the novel is Whodunit? But the first viewers in hordes will have read the book, and know all the plot red herrings, and this plot does GREAT red herrings. Inevitably, many viewers will be disappointed because they already know it so well and will track every deviation from the original. Above all, they know who done it.
No plot spoilers here. Basically, Rachel is divorced. She commutes into the city daily, pretending she has a job, though she was fired a year earlier. She fantasizes about a loving couple (Megan & Scott) in a house she passes daily. The train often stops right outside (the book notes this, the film does not). Her ex-husband, Tom, lives with his new wife, Anna, and baby, a couple of doors away, in their old marital home. Rachel is a drunk with a history of memory loss. Megan disappears … why? what happened? Why did Rachel wake up covered with blood?
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt)
We bought the unabridged audio version earlier this year because whodunits work so well on long car journeys. The book uses three different female narrators and switches back and forth between them, and in time. The readers on the audio are excellent. It was the sort of audio where you arrive, park the car and sit listening to the end of the chapter. I have the highest praise for Paula Hawkins as an author too.
The film stars Emily Blunt as the alcoholic divorcée, Rachel. That was a major reason for seeing the film. The first issue though is that the whole story has been transferred from the London commuter belt to New York. That won’t sit well with British fans of the book for starters. It’s the sort of thing Hollywood had to do 10 or 20 years ago, citing an audience in Omaha, Nebraska who would not be able to follow the film, because they might not know that London was a large city, nor guess that British Rail was a train operator, and would be puzzled by British accents. Why they always cited Omaha I don’t know, and I’d be extremely offended if I were a resident of that city. It was the sort of comment I got when Americanizing British textbooks for years. The comments invariably came from New York editors who had never been to Omaha in their lives.
I thought Hollywood had grown up past that feeling that Americans were so insular that everything had to be localized, but apparently not. Perhaps it reflects the year of Donald Trump. Yes, I was pissed off when I heard about the location switch too. Let’s be kind … maybe they had pre-cast such a good set of actors, which predicated an American setting. Also, Rachel’s husband shares his name (Tom Watson) with the Deputy Leader of the British Labour Party, so perhaps best to relocate it! I do think the very British Mike Leigh film Another Year may have influenced Paula Hawkins in creating Rachel, and that an all-British cast could equally have handled the roles.
The day before we saw it, we noted the five star reviews in the film adverts, which on closer examination were from publications we did not know. The Daily Mail review gave it two stars, and pointed out that the film had not worked out how to deal with the loss of the book’s multiple viewpoints. Tellingly, the review (by Brian Viner) pointed out that it needed a Hitchcock to make sense of it. Funny, the other reviews compared it to Hitchcock. Mr Viner also declares that it takes place in “Upstate New York” and The Sunday Times repeats that in an interview with Emily Blunt, whereas pointers throughout the film are to Westchester County, on the Hudson River and the second richest county in the area, and “downstate”
The Guardian later added to the British thumbs down with two stars. Camilla Long gave it two stars in The Sunday Times too, in spite of being right after an interview with Emily Blunt.
Megan (Haley Bennett)
The audio book runs to just under eleven hours, the movie to 1 hour 52 minutes. I spend much time adapting and précising stories, so full marks to screen writer Erin Cressida Wilson for condensing so well. There were some very clever additions to move the plot fast, such as the AA Meeting, and even more so the meeting with Martha (Tom’s boss) on the train. Martha was played by Lisa Kudrow and got 30 minutes plot on the audio book into a clear and succinct two minutes or less. People hated the preçis version of One Day in the movie, but it’s inevitable.
The film comes out as far darker than the novel because it is so condensed, and it’s the darker bits that survive. Two police detectives become one. Cathy (Rachel’s landlady) loses her boyfriend. The characters simply cannot develop so subtly. In the end, I’m going to say that the audio book is the richer experience. However, as with One Day I’m not dismissing the film. The cast make it, in particular Emily Blunt makes her play in moving from sexy, funny star to Meryl Streep seriousness, and succeeds.
I was told in advance that Emily Blunt retains her English accent, but it’s more subtle than that. In her first meeting with psychiatrist (and murder suspect) Dr Kamal Abdic, she remarks that he has an accent. He remarks that she has an accent too, which is a justification of sorts, not that they say what the accent is. Now Emily Blunt can “do” American. What she does here is the accent I know so well (from my offspring and close friends), the English person who has lived in the USA for many years. It’s different, and she captures it perfectly.Then again, she is an English person who lives in the USA.
Tom Watson (Justin Theroux), the ex-husband with Rachel (Emily Blunt)
It’s a film about women, so the women’s parts are strong. Emily Blunt is as good as you can get. She simply can’t be as unattractive, overweight and blowsy as Rachel in the book, but careful make up ensures we believe in her as an alcoholic, aided by shapeless clothes. Haley Bennett imbues Megan with the right degree of airy weirdness and total despair. We were shocked to note Megan’s headstone at the end, 1990-2016. Phew, 1990 seems like yesterday.
Rebecca Ferguson as Anna, Tom’s realtor second wife is ideal, and looks sufficiently alike Megan for the plot … though blonde hair is all it needs. Allison Jane’s Detective Riley is tough, and has to replace the good cop / bad cop duo in the original. I would have made Luke Evans as Scott, Megan’s husband, clean shaven to distinguish him from Dr Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) but they didn’t, rendering Rachel’s first viewing of him with Megan less than obvious.
Megan’s husband, Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans)
Less than obvious will be an issue. We both wondered how we would have coped with all those onscreen title pointers if we hadn’t known the story:
Rachel … Megan … Anna
Four months ago … Last Friday … Two months ago … One month ago … Last week
We could follow it. Someone with zero knowledge of the plot might well be floundering badly, and I’m still concerned about giving away any plot spoilers.
For the lovers of the book, the houses, which seem to be along the Hudson River were considerably upmarket of the UK originals. The houses used in the film were in Gedney Farms in White Plains in Westchester County. Apparently, they look onto a golf course, not the Hudson River, so a lot of CGI was used. The lawn leading to the traintrack and river was a visual bonus deriving from the location, and now we know why it disappeared into morning mist. Another minor Americanization is that Rachel’s penchant for gin is replaced with vodka, presumably in the Martinis too. No big deal. The pedestrian underpass becomes a road tunnel. Lots of bits get missed. Rachel does not get to screw Scott. Sorry, if you were looking forward to that bit. Dr Kamal Abdic comes across as nicer than in the book. The end was somewhat rushed. We’d spent at least three CDS of the 10 CD audio book speculating on who the baddie was. You don’t get that here.
Audio book … new versions have the film cover
The book / audio book has the space to develop plot and character better, though the quality of acting, especially Emily Blunt and Hayley Bennett, strives hard to compensate. The film with the complexity of time shifts and viewpoints may struggle in its intended mainstream market. At our afternoon showing, we had a woman constantly scrolling her Smart Phone with shining white light for the first hour, plus a woman to our right who noisily unwrapped and chomped through one sweet (candy) per minute for the entire film. That’s at least 112 sweets! Were they following all those onscreen signposts? I doubt it.
As with One Day we got over the book / film difference enough to rate it highly. And we forgave the switch to America … it made no material difference to the plot.
I wonder how listeners will cope with new editions of the audio book, which have NOW A MAJOR FILM and Emily Blunt on the cover. It’s VERY different … so much so that they may have to do a “book of the film version.” The film is getting plenty of publicity … there are billboards around us, and it took the whole front of the Sunday Times Culture magazine (9th October).
MINUS FOR DISTRESSED BABIES
This is the Cathy Come Home demerit, where small babies are deeply distressed on screen as part of the plot. Mostly this was sound over (easily obtained), but there was one full on visual shot of a severely distressed baby. My companion finds this totally unacceptable on screen. She is right.