The Girl on the Train, adapted from the runaway bestseller by Paula Hawkins, is a reasonably gripping suspense thriller that never quite hits the high notes of 2014’s Gone Girl, to which it will inevitably be compared. That film, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, benefitted enormously from the moody, ominous tone set by David Fincher and his signature creepy atmospherics. This one must settle for The Help director Tate Taylor’s faithful but frankly unremarkable approach.
Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the lonely alcoholic ‘girl’ from the film’s title whose life has spiraled out of control since her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), whom she still calls and stalks repeatedly, much to annoyance of his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). While commuting every day from the suburbs to New York’s Grand Central, she stares wistfully at the home she once shared with Tom, and into the home of another seemingly perfect couple whose lives she has become obsessed with.
So when she spots Megan (Hayley Bennett), the beautiful young woman of that house, kissing a man who is not her husband, Rachel takes the betrayal personally. Blind with booze-fueled rage, she decides to confront her, only to wake up the next day, bloodied and bruised, and to the news that Megan has gone missing. As desperate as she is to know what happened, Rachel also begins to suspect herself, afraid that one of her drunken blackouts may have gone worse than usual.
Director Tate Taylor’s strictly functional treatment is a far cry from the tense stylings of Fincher’s direction, but he successfully translates the novel’s fiendish twists and its intertwining plotlines to recreate that compelling narrative on screen. Sift through the red herrings, though, and it’s not hard – for those like me who haven’t read the book – to solve the mystery at its core.
It’s a good thing then that the film is held together by a remarkable, albeit harrowing performance from Blunt, who is never afraid to plumb the depths of Rachel’s misery and degradation. The other actors are in good form too, particularly Bennett as the doomed Megan, Luke Evans as her husband Scott, and Alison Janney as the officer conducting the investigation.
Violent, dark, and never easy to watch, The Girl on the Train puts its women through the wringer, and leaves you to negotiate its deceptive, unreliable narrators and time jumps. It’s not a perfect movie but a very watchable one. I’m going with three out of five.