PLOT: Rachel (Emily Blunt) is an alcoholic prone to blackouts who rides the train past her old house every day, in which her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) live with their new baby. She is jealous of the relationship of their young neighbor Megan (Haley Bennett) with her husband Scott (Luke Evans), or at least what she sees of it in brief flashes as the train barrels by. The night after a particularly bad blackout, Megan goes missing. Rachel attempts to help Scott solve her disappearance, but her obsession with her ex and continued downward spiral interfere with her mental faculties. As her life circles the drain, she is led to wonder if maybe she’s the one who killed Megan.
REVIEW: The most obvious comparison when watching the thriller novel adaptation THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is GONE GIRL, because that’s the void it’s clearly attempting to fill. But stopping there is too easy. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN also hearkens back to the early gialli of Dario Argento, in which the protagonist solves a mystery by plumbing deeper and deeper layers of a particular memory as well as a grand tradition of female-led dramas like THE HOURS or THREE WOMEN, linking the lives of a trio of women in a grand tapestry of pain and longing. Of course the film doesn’t quite match the quality of any of its influences, but it’s a lot more than just a GONE GIRL rip-off.
While I dug the idea of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, probably my biggest road block to actually loving it was the second act, in which nearly every element seems to actively mutiny against the film. The fragmented editing meant to represent Rachel’s broken memories starts to show us snippets of other people’s flashbacks in an attempt to stir up drama where there patently isn’t any. It’s a ripe old cheat, because she’s a girl on a train, not f**king Jean Grey. Plus, at this point the script slips out for a smoke break, endlessly recycling the same scenes over and over again. Although this narrative lull allegedly has sex in it, which would certainly break the monotony, this R-rated film frames its more lurid sequences like it’s a sitcom, rendering both the sex and the violence pretty toothless. I’m not saying this movie has to have sex and violence to be good, but its many attempt to titillate the audience are hobbled like they’re on a date with Annie Wilkes.
The first and third acts, though? That’s a different story. The opening is a veeeeery slow boil, but it effectively creates an off-kilter jumble of time that slams you into the mindset of this hopelessly lost woman. It doesn’t quite know when to stop doing this, and the Big Moment goes on way too long, but it sets the mood terrifically.
And then the thriller elements really kick it into high gear as the film barrels toward its corker of a finale. Although the mystery and the drama mostly play out through loaded conversations rather than high-octane badassery, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN pulls out all the stops in the final 30 minutes, really leaning on the camera as a source of tension, using the frame to highlight the mounting threat lurking around every corner. The film whips you up into its story, even if it feels like a certain key element was maybe left behind in the pages of the novel.
Where THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN truly and unequivocally shines is its cast. Emily Blunt tackles the role of a washed-up drunk like a 300-pound linebacker, slurring and stumbling through the world with expert precision. You always know at any given moment exactly how lucid she is, which is massively important in piecing together the mystery. She plays this pitiful, broken role so well that you actually forget she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world and fully believe in her plight. Nobody in the cast is on the same level as Blunt, but her co-stars all turn in great work. Rebecca Ferguson continues her reign as a captivating out-of-nowhere star and Haley Bennett manages to sell a series of woefully purple monologues. The men are good too but they’re not so important. These three women rule the movie, and they do so with grace and skill.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN might be a flawed flick from start to finish, but there’s so much good at the core of it, it’s an interesting watch even when the thriller elements begin to flag. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone seeking a good adrenaline-pumping mystery, but if you’re in the mood for a dark, brooding, almost wicked drama, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN has got your back.