Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who divorced her husband Tom after she caught him cheating on her, takes the train to work daily. She fantasises about the relationship of her neighbours, Scott and Megan Hipwell, during her commute. That all changes when she witnesses something from the train window and Megan is missing, presumed dead.
Paula Hawkin’s debut thriller "The Girl on the Train" was one of the fastest selling books in history. Told from the perspectives of three unreliable women whose lives are connected by a murder, it was no literary masterpiece. But the page-turning story about alcoholism, voyeurism and domestic violence was so strong it was acquired for film adaptation by Dreamworks even before the book’s release.
The mark of a great thriller is if it’s still fun to watch even when you know ‘whodunnit’. Hitchcock’s Rear Window, for instance, gives fear and pleasure even after countless viewings. Unfortunately The Girl on the Train fails this test, generating little tension or empathy for the characters, and engaging only a few pale pink herrings. However, for viewers not familiar with the book’s plot, the film directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), may work as a moderately entertaining, competently produced domestic noir. It’s the kind of rare mainstream movie that’s welcome for its adult themes and female-driven storyline and the book club set will probably enjoy it, even as they dissect its flaws.
At the center of the narrative is Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic thirty-something divorcee who continues to commute even though she’s lost her job in the city. Sipping gin from a water bottle and staring blearily out the window, she passes the backyard of the pretty house where she used to live with Tom (Justin Theroux). He’s now remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), the lithe blonde real estate agent with whom he had an affair. They live in seeming bliss with their new baby. Like a whale that can’t help beaching itself, bitter Rachel can’t stop looking.
Several doors down, there’s another perfect couple: beautiful Megan (Haley Bennett) and handsome Scott (Luke Evans). They spend an unreasonable amount of time cuddling on their back deck facing the rail line, and Rachel watches them stalker-like, telling us in voiceover they’re ‘the embodiment of true love’. But when she sees Megan kissing another man, and then Megan disappears, presumed murdered, Rachel can’t help getting involved. Her own alcoholic blackouts and tendency to turn up and terrorise the ex, mean she’s also a suspect. The tough female detective on the case (played with wolfish relish by Allison Janney) certainly thinks so. But what about the man Megan was kissing (Edgar Ramirez), who turns out to be her therapist?
"Blunt manages to give her sad and messy character some humanity through smudged mascara and puffy lips, but the mechanical screenplay [...] doesn’t give her – or the others – much room to develop beyond ciphers."
Transported from its original British setting to upstate New York, Emily Blunt is allowed to keep her English accent, though the voice of the film sometimes feels lost in the transatlantic. Shooting on film, Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (The Hunt, Far From the Madding Crowd) creates a stylish and shadowy study in greys and blacks that would have been perfect for London’s burbs. This mood is sustained by a sombre instrumental score from composer Danny Elfman.
Blunt manages to give her sad and messy character some humanity through smudged mascara and puffy lips, but the mechanical screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus) doesn’t give her – or the others – much room to develop beyond ciphers. It’s hard not to compare The Girl on the Train with David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Where that film unspooled its mystery as a multi-layered and deliciously acidic parable of modern marriage, this feels like a thin puzzle with no real insight to offer beyond its solving.
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