There are two kinds of people in this world, those who love ten-cent paperback murder mysteries and those who don’t. It’s obvious many enjoy an unsolved case as seen by the rise of true crime documentaries and podcasts but melodramatic, Agatha Christie whodunits are their own beasts. That’s the genre The Girl on the Train falls into even though it carries itself as if it’s Gone Girl. I’m not scolding it for its confidence but it is nowhere near as intelligent as Flynn’s novel or as artistic as Fincher’s big screen adaptation. It’s less morally ambiguous and easier to swallow than the controversial approaches in Gone Girl. Train finds its own rhythm of twist and turns which has good intentions but can leave you unsatisfied.
The film begins with Rachel (Emily Blunt), a commuter on the New York transit who exists in a fantasy world as she lives vicariously through those she gazes at in the homes that wiz by, namely one inhabited by a gorgeous blonde. This happens to be Megan (Haley Bennett), Rachel’s former neighbor who goes missing after Rachel was the last person to see her alive. The film jumps perspectives (and time) as these women live’s, including Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), unknowingly intertwine. I’m going to spoil this upfront but what links them is the ex, current and future husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). Considering how obvious that sounds, the film does a great job avoiding such suspicion. Maybe it’s because I’m not someone who wants to be ten steps ahead of a mystery, but I didn’t come to the realization of his involvement due to the plot never overemphasizing his role. Like a good mystery, it’s trying to throw you off the scent of the real killer by adding enough ancillary characters and side plot to take your mind off the prime suspect. The film perfects weaving through narratives with seamless transitions and helps to keep Megan as a functional character even after she’s dead. There’s only a small batch of characters in this story so it tries its hardest to make the best of them.
The fundamental element that makes this whole movie work is a stellar performance by Emily Blunt. She’s our unreliable narrator and so much of the plot hinges on her fuzzy memory because she’s a raging alcoholic. The first act is barely a mystery and more of an authentic portrayal of addiction. Blunt sells it by first opening with the succinct monologue as she articulates her dreams about the lives outside the train but when we see her first interaction with another person, her words are slurred and she can barely keep her head up. Throughout the story, she maintains a disheveled appearance and believably a woman who can’t keep her shit together. She doesn’t even trust herself as she pieces together her missing memories. It’s engaging enough to watch her daily struggling as she consumes vodka in her inconspicuous water bottle then add being a murder suspect onto that, you’ve got one bad week ahead of you. Her incoherent nature caused by blackouts elevates the theme of perception as you don’t know the validity of the truths she is told.
The film is never able to live up to the strong introduction Blunt brings forth. As we enter into Rachel’s sleuthing, we meet the cop on the case played by an underserved Allison Janney. She personifies a pretty inept police force who seem as clueless as us. She suspects Rachel from the beginning and for good reason considering Rachel has garnered a lengthy stalking rap sheet from breaking into her ex-husband’s house only two doors down. The movie doesn’t want real detectives to get in the way of laymen detective work but it allows their presence to be felt. When the film winds down, it drops its weaving structure and gives a straightforward reveal that’s both further graphic than needed and completely unsubtle. But maybe when you accept that this is essentially about gaslighting women, you can come to terms with a futile conclusion. Director Tate Taylor tries to end on some note of female camaraderie as these three women had been sequentially wronged by the same person and yet while we spent a lot of time getting to know each person, we didn’t know them together. They are all extremely separate in reality, connected in a large sense but not as actively as this movie may think.
It’s very easy to pick apart the stupidity throughout the film. Once it’s all laid out it appears quite basic and frivolous. It’s no grand scheme, it’s just a guy who, as the movie puts eloquently, “can’t keep his dick in his pant.” I don’t fault it as much as I could. I’d describe it as a proficient episode of Law&Order:CI. It’s not as exciting as SVU but they put in the effort for strong character development. Blunt brings 110%, overshadowing everyone in the cast especially with Ferguson’s drifting accent and Bennett being distractingly similar looking to Jennifer Lawrence. Still, I can get behind a movie that’s goal is to gang up on men. It’s quite nasty when portraying the other sex and women get shit done here (unless you’re Allison Janney). I have to assume if the novel is anything like this, it’s an easy beach read just as the movie is a perfectly mindless watch. Smartly released amidst the lull between the blockbuster summer and the winter Oscar season, you exit the movie unharmed, shrugging it off saying “it’s fun while it lasted” but ultimately The Girl on the Train is going to pass you by.