I wish the girl on this train was Miss Froy who writes her name on the frosted window in Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless classic The Lady Vanishes. That film delivers on its promise of suspense and offers a gallery of mysterious, amusing, and memorable characters. This “train ride” leads nowhere.

When Paula Hawkins’ novel became a best-seller it was likened to Gone Girl, another contemporary thriller with a female protagonist and a dramatically deadly story twist. I can’t compare the book with this adaptation by Erin Cressida Wilson but had great difficulty becoming involved in the story. For one thing, I couldn’t empathize with its main character (Emily Blunt), a self-pitying alcoholic who suffers blackouts and fantasizes about the “perfect couple” she observes from her commuter train. She’s pathetic but not particularly sympathetic, especially as we piece together her backstory, and that makes all the difference in the world.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t find anyone in this film to root for, including such cold-hearted figures as the woman who’s taken Blunt’s place as Justin Theroux’s wife (Rebecca Ferguson), his former nanny (Haley Bennett) or the husband himself. Their highly-charged interrelationships ought to be fodder for a crackling thriller, but this isn’t it.

The only character who sparked any interest for me was the local police detective who simply goes about her job. She’s played in brisk, no-frills manner by Allison Janney, who makes any character interesting without breaking a sweat.

Even the gifted Édgar Ramírez is wasted in an underwritten role as a psychiatrist. Luke Evans has a thankless part and Lisa Kudrow makes a brief but welcome cameo.

Director Tate Taylor usually gets the best from his actors but here he’s been defeated by a narrative that is dreary and relentlessly downbeat. I just didn’t give a hoot about the girl on the train—or anybody else in this movie.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024