THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Tate Taylor

Stars: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez.
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Based on the best selling novel by Paula Hawkins that has sold over eleven millions copies since it was published in 2012, The Girl On The Train is an erotic adult mystery thriller that serves up a potent mix of sex, violence, domestic violence, marital discord, voyeurism and murder. It will inevitably invite comparisons to Gone Girl, although this film is nowhere near as compelling or dark or engaging as David Fincher’s film which relished the sadistic nature of its violence. Like Gone Girl there was a weight of expectations about this film adaptation, but somehow this one falls short. And like that film, this one serves up an unreliable central narrator whose actions shape our perception of events.
Rachel Watson (played by Emily Blunt) is a deeply bitter and unhappy recovering alcoholic who divorced her womanising husband Tom (Justin Theroux, in his biggest film role for some time) after he cheated on her. She is a little emotionally unstable. Even though she has lost her job, everyday she regularly commutes into the city. As the train passes the picturesque white picket fence suburb of Ardsley-On-Hudson where she used to live she obsesses about the lives of those people whose houses overlook the train line. As she passes through the familiar countryside she can’t help but spy on the house where Tom lives with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, etc) and their baby. She also looks at their sexy next door neighbour Megan (Haley Bennett, from the recent remake of The Magnificent Seven, etc) and her brooding husband Scott (Luke Evans, from Fast & Furious 6, etc).
But when Megan mysteriously goes missing, Rachel can’t help but investigate because she believes she saw something suspicious during her commute. Then when Megan’s body is found she becomes obsessed with trying to identify the killer. Rachel tries to make sense of a number of suspects that include Tom and Scott, or even her psychiatrist Kamil Abdic (Edgar Ramirez, from the recent remake of Point Break, etc), whom she saw in an embrace with Megan. But because of her actions, and the fact that is plagued by blackouts and has no memory of what happened the night Megan went missing, Rachel finds herself a suspect in the eyes of tough investigator Riley (Allison Janney).
The idea of someone fleetingly seeing something that arouses their suspicion and sets them spying on their neighbours while trying to determine the truth about what happened is a plot device that has driven superior suspense thrillers like Hitchcock’s claustrophobic Rear Window, Antonioni’s Blowup, and even the teen thriller Disturbia. But the screenplay from Erin Cressida Wilson (female centric dramas like Secretary, Chloe, etc) generates little suspense here, and the opening scenes are a little confusing. And the resolution is a bit predictable, even for those unfamiliar with the novel.
The film also maintains the multiple narrative structure and sinuous twists and turns of the novel, but as it leaps back and forth in time and between the three female narrators, it also becomes a little confusing and clumsy. For some reason, the producers have also relocated the setting from London to New York, which adds little to the material, but otherwise the screenplays remains faithful to the book, which will satisfy fans.
The Girl On The Train is a character driven mystery which features three strong female characters. Director Tate Taylor previously directed The Help with its strong ensemble female cast, and here he draws some solid performances. The standout is Blunt, who brings a hint of vulnerability, despair, desperation and unhealthy obsession to her performance as the flawed and self destructive Rachel who begins to doubt her own sanity. This is essentially a fairly unglamorous role and a fairly unlikeable character, but Blunt delivers a polished and committed performance. Bennett and Ferguson make the most of their underwritten roles. The good cast also includes Lisa Kudrow in a small role as Rachel’s former boss. The three male roles are not as well fleshed out, although Theroux does a good job as the volatile and unlikeable serial womaniser Tom.
The film looks stylish and is handsomely done, with Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus  Christensen (The Hunt, etc) giving the material a strong visual surface and a moody quality. There is also a typically moody and evocative score from Danny Elfman, best known for his collaborations with Tim Burton.
Although there are some Hitchcockian elements here, The Girl On The Train never quite rises above the melodramatic potboiler nature of the source material.

★★★

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