PAULA HAWKINS’S BLOCKBUSTER has been turned into a sharp and cleverly realized psychological thriller that, despite the silly carping of ‘purists’, makes the shift from England to the suburbs of New York with nary a hiccup (OK, truth be told, the English trains generally are far more sluggish and veer closer to houses than the New York ones, which whoosh along…). Emily Blunt (“Sicario”, “Edge of Tomorrow”) is Rachel, a seeming basket case. She’s a serially drunk alcoholic whose daily rides into the city passes by the home of an attractive young couple, Megan (Haley Bennett from “The Magnificent Seven”) and Scott (Luke Evans of “The Hobbit” and “Fast and Furious”). As she feasts, voyeur-like upon their glowing good looks, she spins their lives into a fantasy of perfection. And then one day, she observes Megan kissing another man.
And then the next day, the woman is gone. Dead and gone.
The trick with a thriller is to keep the audience so spellbound looking in one direction that it’s a genuine surprise when the killer emerges from the other. And the one direction we’re focused in on is that of Rachel: her drunk binges, her blackouts, her lies to a friend whose hospitality she’s abusing, her obsessiveness with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his attractive wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and the fabricated story she weaves for the young couple. Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) and Emily Blunt coax the audience to feel both revulsion and fascination for Rachel. And for all her red-nosed inebriation, Blunt gives us a character that’s just about empathetic enough for us to root for… and hope she isn’t the killer.
The compelling theme that knits the story together probes the gulf between what you see and what’s real; what you think you know (the characters and the audience) and what’s the truth. Simply put, things ain’t as they seem. And the way Taylor lays out his story for us – told through the subjective eyes of his principle female characters- is like a nicely swaying pendulum: we keep veering between what the character (and the audience) sees… and what the reality might be.
What do you trust? What you see or where the evidence points toward? And whom do you trust? A drunk, obsessed, potentially violent woman, or her charming loving ex-husband who’s scared of her? A muscled, controlling abusive lover or his hard done by, guilt-racked partner? And for Rachel herself, which side of her can she herself trust? The sad, sniveling alcoholic or the potentially violent alcohol-amnesiac?
The detective, whodunnit side of the story, is the movie’s weakest point, with gaping loopholes and, by CSI standards, a generally shoddy piece of investigative work. But this weakness fortunately does not intrude into the tightening drama of the tale.
With its echoes of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and the frightening mind control mystery of George Cukor’s “Gaslight”, deliciously conjured up by Danny Elfman’s (“Spider-Man” “Before I Wake”) haunting score, there’s more than an affectionate homage to 50’s noir at play here. “The Girl On The Train” is like an Alice in Wonderland summons, leading you down, down, down into its own broken world.
Blunt is tremendous as the befuddled and potentially dangerous Rachel. She nicely evokes her character’s struggle as she tries to figure out not only what happened, but how best to rise up above her own debilitating alcoholism. The rest of the -female- cast give her strong support: Haley Bennett’s Megan is both a weak, defenseless victim and ruthless vamp; and Rebecca Ferguson’s (“Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation”, “The White Queen”) Ann is the thoroughly sexy snooty, self confident woman who has to force her inner killer from her to be able to deal with things.
All these girls: the one on the train…the Gone one…the one with the Dragon Tattoo. This is clearly either the new movie woman zeitgeist or the sum of all men’s fears: woman as smart, seductive and also lethal
(And of note, the crew on the movie features an unusually high percentage of women: the writer, art director, cinematographer, two of the producers, set decorator, the two costume designers, production manager etc. Way to go)
“The Girl on The Train”. Dir: Tate Taylor. With: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney. Cinematograaphy: Charlotte Christensen (“Far From the Madding Crowd”). Composer: Danny Elfman. Screenplay: Erin Wilson (“Vinyl”) and Paula Hawkins