“The Girl on the Train effectively conjures up enough mystery to sustain its runtime”
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is a divorced alcoholic, meandering through her day clutching a water-bottle that holds about a fifth of a bottle of vodka in it. Each morning, she rides the train to work, voyeuristically eyeing her old neighbors, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), who live two doors down from where she once lived. Now, Rachel lives with a roommate named Cathy (Laura Prepon), who is more than tolerant of Rachel’s drunken, sometimes violent stupors that put everyone who comes in contact with her at risk.
But before she sees the Hipwell’s ostensibly lovely, perfect home while commuting on the train, Rachel has to see the house where her and her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) once lived. Tom is now remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), with a newborn baby girl, which mostly fuels Rachel’s drunken episodes because it was her inability to conceive a child that led to their marriage evaporating. One day, out of nowhere, Megan is reported missing, but Rachel’s frequent blackouts and often disoriented state make it next to impossible for her to inform the detectives of exactly what her involvement was, if any, in that particular instance.
The Girl on the Train has been called the “airport novel” version of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, the sublime domestic thriller from a few years back, and there is credibility to that statement. Where Gone Girl was gracious in its buildup and development of a troubled marital situation, The Girl on the Train thrusts us into the lives of many characters, two of whom – Megan and Anna – look very similar – making initial continuity difficult. It also doesn’t help when the story’s point-of-view is from a haphazardly crafted unreliable narrator setup that only makes the film that much more difficult to examine and dissect.
But The Girl on the Train – which is based on the Paula Hawkins novel that spent weeks on the bestselling books list – has merit in the regard that it knows how to keep a story moving. Its plethora of characters provide for a rollercoaster-like narrative that keeps the wheels of suspense spinning quite frequently, and in turn, make a viewer active when watching the film. Things aren’t easily spelled out, and it’s not until the third act that things even begin to come clear.
Director Tate Taylor (The Help) does the best he can to make Rachel’s blackouts communicable while also making them the source for confusion on the audience’s behalf. They keep the film alive and do not let the mystery of the entire project fizzle. The star here, however, is Emily Blunt, who, once again, does fine work at throwing herself into a challenging role. Hot on the heels of her acclaimed role in the mostly average cartel-drama Sicario, Blunt shows up to The Girl on the Trainlooking dazed and disheveled, someone who doesn’t look as if they can cogently state their own name without second-guessing themselves. Some actresses in Blunt’s position might have chosen to add vague amounts of glamor to the character, such as nicer outfits or a more coherent speech-pattern, in order to try and allude to a more composed image. Not Blunt; she’s physically, mentally, and entirely a mess here, with dark bags under her eyes, as well.
The Girl on the Train effectively conjures up enough mystery to sustain its runtime, and brings out the best in Blunt, who continues to work her way up on the list of most talented actresses working today. The real problems with the film come into play mostly when watching the film rather than contemplating things afterwards, such as the early-onset narrative and character convolution in addition to the pretty underwhelming erotic thriller vibe this film keeps flirting with before backing out of quite quickly. It’ll satisfy the book-club audience that so eagerly read, digested, and discussed it, and will also likely be enjoyed by most of whom who seek it out, so if that’s not deemed a winner amongst audiences, I’m not sure what is.