THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, adapted from Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel of the same name, is as much a nail-biting thriller as a masterclass in acting. Led by a trio of incredible actresses, especially Emily Blunt, the film never shies away from showing brutality – more directly in the lead character’s alcoholism, and indirectly in the dangers of false perceptions.
Rachel (Blunt) is an alcoholic, who after 2+ years still is unable to get over her ex-husband’s (Justin Theroux) infidelity, their inability to have children, and their eventual divorce. So much so, she regularly calls him drunk and even shows up at his house, which scares his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Although Rachel doesn’t have a job, she takes a commuter train to and from New York City every morning. The highlight of each trip is watching a young couple, Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), who live a few houses down from her old house with Tom. From her train window, she creates a backstory of their lives, hoping she can one day find love like this “perfect couple”.
One morning, Rachel is shocked when she sees Megan kissing another man on the balcony of the house. On her way home later that night, Rachel drunkenly gets off of her train at Megan’s stop and the next thing she knows, she is waking up back home in her own bed, injured and with only flashes of memories of the previous night. When Rachel sees news reports that show Megan’s picture with the word “MISSING” above it, she is desperate to find what happened, especially because one of her memory flashes involved seeing Megan. Was she somehow involved in the murder and why does she have an angry voicemail from Tom?
As adaptations go, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson did a remarkable job cutting unnecessary filler and adding elements that helped the story move along smoothly. Two things in particular stand out to me in the movie. The first is that the story highlights a woman’s battle with alcoholism, a topic hardlyshown onscreen. Much like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SMASHED, Emily Blunt’s portrayal of a damaged woman was both heartbreaking and sobering – easily one of the best performances of her career.
The second is the film explores the dangers of inaccurate perceptions. In our social media-heavy world we primarily see updates from friends and family that highlight the good, exciting elements of their lives; it’s not often that you see the bad. It’s no surprise, for instance, books are being written on the effect inflated online personas have on society. In the film, Rachel is faced with an element of this on a daily basis. From her commuter train, she sees what on the outside appears to be a perfect couple and creates a false, blissful narrative to describe their lives. But as the audience (and Rachel) uncover the truth in the Hipwells’ not-so-fairy-tale, it becomes more and more clear that things aren’t always how they appear.
BEWARE! SPOILERS BELOW!
Like the book, the first two thirds of the film are pitch perfect. However, my issue with the ending of the story (both in the novel and movie) remains. For such an interesting, thrilling story, I have a serious love/hate relationship with the “twist’, as well as the identity of the killer. Off the bat, I predicted Tom was the killer and was disappointed that it really was that simple in the end. But where things get a little tricky is the twist involving Rachel’s blackouts.
On one hand, Tom’s manipulation of Rachel’s blackouts is creative and ballsy. But when it comes down to it, the idea really falls apart in terms of execution, turning into a bit of a cheap plot device used to hide the killer’s identity. After all, are we really supposed to believe Tom continuously abused Rachel during her blackouts and there was no time that she remembered? How could he be so sure she would always forget? At his core, Tom is clearly an emotional and physical abuser, and I am sure he abused Rachel when she was sober too. However, due to the way the abuse is presented in the book and movie (again, moreso to hide the “twist”/true nature of his character), it only appears he abuses her when she is blackout drunk and the rest of the time he is a saint. As much as I do enjoy the movie overall, this disconnect disappointed me when I read it in the book, and took me out of the movie when I saw it onscreen. It all just seems convenient and overdramatic.
Overall, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a fantastic character study of a damaged woman that Blunt is able to make likable, even when she is at her worst. Add some more fantastic performances from the largely female cast (including minor, yet pivotal roles for the always-fantastic Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow), Justin Theroux, and Edgar Ramirez, and you’re set for an entertaining escape to the inevitable weekend rain (#ThanksHurricaneMatthew).
My Review: B-