I’m feeling a strong sense of déjà vu since I’ve reviewed Paula Hawkins’ best-selling thriller barely a week ago. I thought that the book was pretty average, but I was curious to see the film and especially what Emily Blunt, who is one of my recent favourite actresses, would do with the main role. As I had expected, she was the only truly remarkable thing in this decent but workmanlike adaptation. She’s always been a compelling presence and here she brings layers and nuance to the character of Rachel, a sad lonely alcoholic whose life fell apart after her husband left her. The plot of the movie sticks closely to the book, with Rachel getting involved into the disappearance of a young woman who, in a rather Hitchcockian fashion, she’d witnessed kissing a strange man from the window of her everyday commuter train. The only radical change is the transatlantic shift of the setting from London to New York, which neither adds nor detracts from the story. It’s hard to see why it was done at all, other than making the film more attractive to the US audience.
Whatever else I thought of the book, it was undeniably a compulsive page-turner. The film doesn’t manage the thrills and suspense as well, dragging in places and rendering some of the important revelations about its characters inert. The switch between the perspectives also doesn’t quite translate onscreen and makes the narrative feel fragmented at times. In a strange way my reactions to the book and movie were polar opposites – the book fizzled out for me when I realised where it was heading, whereas the film felt like it really gained its pulse in the third act once Rachel figures out what’s up, so it ended on a high and left me feeling probably more generous towards it than it deserved.
Throughout, Blunt really keeps this train on the tracks, digging deep into the pain and loss of her damaged, unlikable yet sympathetic character. It’s also a portrayal devoid of vanity as they did a great job making her look like a real screw-up. The supporting cast, which includes Luke Evans and Justin Theroux, does a solid job with their sketchy characters, though I’ve no idea why they got a Spanish-speaking (and looking) actor to play someone named Dr. Kamal Abdic. Overall, the movie could have been better at delivering consistent knife-edge tension its genre demands, but Emily Blunt’s performance made it worth watching.