Emily Blunt lands a stonking great star role as the depressed, alcoholic Rachel, divorced a year earlier and fired from her New York PR job, in director Tate Taylor’s murder mystery thriller, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins.
[Spoiler alert] OK, so I’m just going to go for the plot. Rachel has taken to riding the train, carrying on as a daily commuter, apparently (and unconvincingly) to her housemate Cathy (Laura Prepon) happy. Along the way she passes her old home, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) has set up a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). But, one day, she looks out of the train window and sees Tom kissing the nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), who is supposed to be happy with Scott (Luke Evans). Megan is also seeing psychiatrist Dr Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez), both professionally and otherwise. Rachel is in an alcoholic and emotional haze, and can’t remember anything properly, why one day she’s got a bloody head for example, which is very useful for the plot of course.
Then Megan goes missing, and Rachel is a person of interest in the missing persons investigation led by the tough-talking, possibly lesbian Detective Riley (Allison Janney). Rachel starts to investigate, and also starts seeing psychiatrist Dr Abdic.
Novelist Hawkins weaves a tangled web, but director Taylor gets tangled up in it. He’d have been much better to tell his story in a linear, chronological fashion, though its annoying and jarring multiple flashbacks, ‘six months earlier’, ‘three days ago’, are just there to confuse and distract you and not clarify the story, in case you rumble the identity of killer too early on. This would probably work well on Hawkins’s pages but not on screen, and nor does the disastrous start with Blunt droning on in voice-over about her story and all her troubles. Drink? Men? Job loss? You’ve got troubles? Well, we’ve all got ’em, dear.
Blunt is a very good actress indeed, and a surprise movie star, but she is not well cast her and can’t play depressed or alcoholic or a victim very well. They’ve allowed her to speak as an English woman in an American setting, which is good, but seems a little odd here. Probably they are just trying to make the character seem more exotic, more foreign, more an outsider.
Bennett however is ideally cast and good, so it’s a pity that she’s the one who goes missing, but she has plenty to do. Ferguson is good too but the role is not very satisfying. Janney gives the best performance, with lots of authority and character. Incidentally, it is interesting to compare her here with her flat turn in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016).
Now the men. Theroux has a difficult and unenviable task to play the cad and bounder Tom, but he does OK. Evans and Ramírez give their roles a good shot, but they are playing cardboard characters. With a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on Paula Hawkins’s novel, this is a story by women (and also probably for women) who have got it in for men. Yep, women may be flawed, but men are just bad. Ah, well, there we are. If you say so, Erin and Paula.
After that slow start, and all the muddled screen story telling, The Girl on the Train does hot up and take bite as a thriller. I’ve just read here ‘Critical Roundup: Reviewers Say Emily Blunt Vehicle Gets Lost Along the Way’ but I don’t agree with that at all. One, it’s not an Emily Blunt vehicle: she’s the star but it’s an ensemble movie with eight main characters, any one of whom may be a killer (though maybe that’s not enough suspects). Second, I think the movie ‘Finds Itself Along the Way’, settling down and improving, and gripping and involving as it goes along. By the end, it’s quite satisfying, though there is a better film trying to squeeze out from under it.
Danny Elfman’s insistently ever-present score is different from his usual work, though I wasn’t sure if I liked it. Maybe there’s just too much of it. The movie is brisk paced, smartly edited and it certainly looks good and stylish in Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s photography and Kevin Thompson’s production designs. And everyone who likes thrillers will want to check it out.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Movie Review
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