The Girl on the Train (2016)

The Girl on the Train is based on the bestselling novel that supposedly “shocked the world”, so one expects a compelling mystery.  The film does feature an appealingly off-putting atmosphere and great performances that should accompany a great thriller.  But they hide a thoroughly average mystery.
Rachel (Emily Blunt), a divorcee and alcoholic is at the center of a missing person’s case in an idealistic New York suburb.  She fears that she played some sort of role in the disappearance of the beautiful Megan (Haley Bennett), the nanny to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and current wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Obsessed with Megan’s seemingly storybook marriage to Scott (Luke Evans), Rachel tries to solve the disappearance in spite of her issues.
The Girl on the Train builds up its fractured protagonist’s world well.  It is deliberately paced and the its sparse soundtrack will literally disappear into the background.  It creates tension filled silences and the winter soaked world is almost always dreary.  There seems to be something troubling brewing under the surface.
Throughout the film, Rachel suffers from alcohol fueled blackouts, giving us an unreliable narrator that adds to that already uneasy atmosphere.  The soundtrack is sparse, literally disappearing into the background as the film creates tension filled silences at just the right times.
But not every narrative choice works.  The point of view often switches points of view from Rachel to Megan or Anna.  There are also jumps from the present to the past.  The Girl on the Train knows how to withhold information from the viewer in just the right ways with this strategy, showing us that Rachel is not the only unreliable narrator.
However, these jumps in time and perspective are uneven (Anna gets the short end of this) and often confusing.  The narrative begins to spin its wheels in the second act, becoming a bit repetitive.  The conclusion comes at us rather suddenly and revelations feel unearned.  The Girl on the Train seemingly shouts “This is the end!” and careens sloppily towards its ending.  Flashbacks occur then suddenly end with no warning and characters see things that they could not have possibly seen.
All of that said, the culprit behind everything is pretty obvious.  If one has seen enough thrillers of this style, it becomes clear after forty minutes or so.  It feels like all the bells and whistles are there to distract from a pretty pedestrian story right of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

This should have been one of Emily Blunt’s best performances and it does start out that way.  Rachel’s drunken scenes are perfectly cringe worthy and her decisions are questionable at the least when she is sober.  However, Blunt injects so much humanity into Rachel that it’s impossible to completely condemn her.
Blunt creates a truly tragic character that an audience may not necessarily root for, but they will hope for her.  That said, there are moments when her performance feels a little “showy.”  Much like the second half of the film, some of her scenes get a little repetitive.  How many times must we see her crying?
Haley Bennett is the other standout performance as Megan, giving us a character as tragic as Rachel.  Her past is is revealed slowly, showing us that she is not all she seems.  Bennett’s performance is quietly brilliant.  It never feels showy or as repetitive as Blunt’s performance.  It is a credit to the film that she is more than just a troubled victim.
Justin Theroux is also very solid as Tom, but that’s where the great performances end.  Some of the roles, like Laura Prepon and Allison Janney are cameos while others, like Edgar Ramirez’s therapist are confusingly pointless.  Most surprising though is Rebecca Ferguson’s role.  Considering her part as Tom’s current wife, it’s surprisingly small and one-dimensional.
A special note should be made regarding how the women are portrayed in the film.  While they are all strong characters, they seem to also be completely reliant on the approval of the men in their lives.  Having a child is seemingly all some of the women live for.  In a time when women’s portrayals in film are becoming more layered and varied, it is a bit of a shame that this stereotype comes into the film.
The Girl on a Train is an adequate thriller with an A-list cast and some talented filmmakers behind it.  While it may thrill fans of the book, others may be disappointed.
Score: 6.5 out of 10