Following in the footsteps of 2014’s Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is another grocery store potboiler turned into a sleek, albeit only moderately involving, thriller. Like Gone Girl, its story is exceedingly ludicrous but a crackling final half hour and fantastic performance from Emily Blunt save a first hour that’s tension-free and frequently tests the involvement of the audience. It’s hardly high art, but director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson make it all work just well enough to warrant a look.
Blunt stars as the title character, Rachel Watson. Divorced, jobless, and drinking vodka straight from a water bottle all day, Rachel commutes into the city each morning just so that her roommate won’t know she’s lost her job. Each day the train passes her old house, now occupied by her ex-husband, Tom (Theroux), his former mistress/now wife, Anna (Ferguson), and their child. But it’s the couple a few doors down, Megan (Bennett) and Scott (Evans) Hipwell, that really catches her eye. To her, they are the perfect match, that is until she spots Megan kissing another man on the home’s balcony. On the train ride back that night, Rachel, once again drunk, disembarks and heads toward the Hipwell’s home. The next morning she wakes up, bruised and bloodied, unable to remember the events of the previous night. But one thing is clear: Megan Hipwell is missing.
The Girl on the Train takes a long time to get going. Taylor and Wilson spend the first hour toying with the audience as the story jumps back and forth in time and is told from three different perspectives. It’s a pattern that grows tiresome until the floodgates open in the second half and some questions are finally answered. It all builds up to a fairly gruesome finale that some may see coming by process of elimination alone. Taylor directs this material tight to the vest, occasionally veering too far into self-seriousness when what’s happening is patently absurd. Fortunately, the last half hour sizzles and provides a few much-needed suspenseful jolts.
Without Emily Blunt in the lead we’d be looking at a far more pedestrian effort. With sunken eyes and in search of a purpose in life, Blunt loses herself in one of the most convincing portrayals of alcoholism seen on screen. Her daily hopelessness manifests and really makes us care about her character, even though she can never be completely trusted. Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven), who’s truly breaking out this year, is also a scene-stealer as temptress Megan Hipwell. She shines in a scene depicting a particularly tragic arc is her character’s past. Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, and Luke Evans round out a solid cast.
It’s easy to envision The Girl on the Train as a page-turner of a book whose absurdities only become really apparent when they’re brought to life on screen. That will always be the challenge for filmmakers that adapt these multi-threaded suspense novels that take great liberty with plausibility. The Girl on the Train manages to make its messiness work in the end, even if it’s a bit of a bumpy ride getting there. And Blunt is absolutely fantastic.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 112 Minutes
Rating: R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity.
Theatrical Release: October 7, 2016
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson. Based upon the novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins.
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans