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The Girl On The Train (Emily Blunt) - Review

The Girl On The Train

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

BOOK to film transfers can be a notoriously difficult thing to pull off. For every Gone Girl success, there’s a dud like The Lovely Bones waiting in the wings.

Given the weight of expectation surrounding Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train, it’s pleasing to be able to report that the big screen adaptation is mostly a success. A complex tale of murder, loss, regret and addiction, it’s notable for featuring three strong female protagonists and a narrative that keeps you guessing.

Admittedly, it does jump the tracks before the end as the often blurry picture that Hawkins’ paints becomes clear. But as with so many stories nowadays, the fun lies largely in the journey more than arriving at the destination.

The girl on the train in question is an alcoholic named Rachel (played by Emily Blunt), a woman whose own life has become something of a train wreck in itself. Divorced and unable to move on, she rides the train each day to a job she no longer has. But the ‘commute’ affords her the opportunity to spy on the home she once had, now occupied by her ex-husband (Justin Theroux), his mistress Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their new-born baby.

A few doors down, meanwhile, is another idyllic couple: a blonde-haired beauty named Megan (Haley Bennett) and her buff husband (Luke Evans). All Rachel can do is watch and yearn for the life she no longer has.

But then something happens. Rachel witnesses Megan in the arms of another man and becomes enraged by what she sees as yet another betrayal. In a drunken stupor, she gets off the train and attempts to intervene, only to awake bloodied and hungover the next morning at home. She can barely remember what has happened. But then a detective (Allison Janney) shows up at her door informing Rachel that Megan is missing.

As with the book, the narrative for The Girl In The Train unfolds from the perspective of three female first-person points of view: Rachel, Anna and Megan. It also skips between time frames; darting from past to present to slowly fill in the blanks.

Director Tate Taylor does a sometimes dizzying job of toying with perception and reality, not least when depicting Rachel’s story. Yet by doing so, he succeeds in making sure you have to be paying attention. It helps that he has an actress of Blunt’s quality to play with, for the English star is on superb form once again here.

Rachel is by no means an easy character to like. Yet Blunt (perhaps by virtue of the always endearing reputation she has brought to so many of her roles) is worth sticking with. She’s her own worst enemy but her desperation and heartbreak are etched across her face, whether in her puffy, tear-stained eyes or in the way she carries herself. And as her picture, or reality, becomes clearer, so too does empathy for her. Blunt gets you on board with a masterfully nuanced performance.

Ferguson has less to work with as Anna, yet still makes another strong impression after her standout turn in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, while Bennett is a stunning temptress turned victim… someone who equally tests the patience until the full reality of her own tragic story is realised. It’s a breakout performance.

But there’s a rawness to each woman’s performance that resonates at various points, and which makes large portions of the film utterly compelling.

Sadly, the depiction of the men doesn’t quite match up, which makes for a lack of complexity late on. And that is disappointing (even though feminists might snigger at the shoe being on the other foot).

But perhaps even more of a missed opportunity is the way in which the latter part of the film reverts from being a tightly wound, intelligently dark and twisted thriller in the style of Gone Girl (to which it has been compared) to something more akin to a Fatal Attraction-style late ’80s wannabe, complete with pulp elements. There are elements of the conclusion that rely far too heavily on coincidence and contrivance, at times straining credibility.

And yet in spite of these shortcomings, the film still thrives on the conviction of the female performances; and Blunt in particular. Elements do linger. There is a darkness that haunts, especially during its middle section, while several of the revelations deliver an emotional gut-punch that is made to feel all the more devastating thanks to the quality of those portrayals.

If anything, the film functions far better as a character study than it does, ultimately, a thriller. It’s the characters you remember more than the central narrative. But if taken on that basis, it’s a journey well worth taking whether you’ve read the book or not.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 112mins
UK Release Date: October 5, 2016