Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexual Content, Language and Nudity
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson
(based on the novel THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins)
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez & Lisa Kudrow
I didn’t know what to expect when walking into THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I hadn’t read the novel and had next to no knowledge about the plot (other than a girl disappears and there’s a mystery afoot). So despite the mixed bag reception from both critics and audiences, I think GIRL ON THE TRAIN may (already) be one of the more underrated gems of 2016. This thriller is unpredictable for most of its running time, has a thick atmosphere of dread, a compelling mystery and three characters that play off each other in surprising ways. Though this seems to be an unpopular opinion at the moment, I feel that GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a solid thriller.
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is an alcoholic who rides the train back and forth every day. Throughout her daily commutes, Rachel has become obsessed with a couple who live outside one of the train stops. As soon as Rachel notices this couple’s “perfect” life beginning to show cracks, unfaithful wife Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) goes missing and Rachel finds herself being labeled a suspect by intimidating Detective Riley (Allison Janney). Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to Megan, Rachel gets close to the missing woman’s husband (Luke Evans) and a potentially immoral psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez)…all while finding herself at odds with her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and his homewrecker wife (Rebecca Ferguson). The mystery gets stranger as it goes along and Rachel soon finds her life in danger.
One of the big things that stuck out about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN for me is the titular protagonist. Rachel isn’t necessarily someone who you’d want to talk to and you’ve likely seen this kind of weirdo on the train before. However, bits of her narration give us insight into her state of mind and make her sympathetic. Even though I found myself reluctant to side with this creepy alcoholic turned amateur detective, the film does a good job of getting the viewer to root for her. Emily Blunt’s convincing performance makes Rachel into a fleshed-out protagonist who’s far more complex than her strange outer appearance might suggest.
The side characters are equally as fascinating. Luke Evans (who’s had good roles and bad roles) is intimidating as Scott Hipwell, while Haley Bennett is purposely hard to read as his missing wife Anna. Her flashbacks slowly dish out new details about her disappearance as the plot steadily becomes more complicated. Other potential suspects in Anna’s disappearance include Edgar Ramirez as shady therapist Kamal Abdic, Rebecca Ferguson as a homewrecker with unclear intentions, and Emily Blunt’s alcoholic Rachel (yes, the main character remains a possible villainess to the viewer). Justin Theroux is solid as sympathetic ex-husband Tom and Allison Janney is appropriate tense as the detective investigating Anna’s disappearance.
Because the list of potential killers is small, this makes for a more tense mystery with twists and turns having a greater effect on the story. This film builds a lot of suspense, so much so that I was willing to ignore plot holes in the moment that became more annoying afterwards. Though arguments have been made that GIRL ON THE TRAIN feels generic in a lot of places, I’d argue that the film purposely goes out of its way to subvert a number of preconceived notions. I thought a potentially forced romance would spring up between one of the suspects, but that never occurred and I was all the happier for it. The ever emerging clues mostly surprised me, though one big reveal had me properly guessing the ending twenty minutes in advance. That didn’t stop the finale from playing out in a dark, suspenseful way though.
Though it has a moody cinematography, a grim atmosphere and a haunting musical score, GIRL ON THE TRAIN’s style occasionally works against it. The film’s non-linear structure relies on a lot of flashbacks and jumps through time. These weren’t always clear and had me trying to play catch up during a few scenes. The film also relies on a few moments of cheap-looking slow motion. It appears as if this was done in post, because it looks like the movie slows down a fast frame rate with a shoddy (almost pixelated) appearance as a result. These complaints, along with a few nagging plot holes keep THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN from reaching the heights of a stellar thriller.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN has problems (see the two paragraphs above), but that doesn’t take away from the film’s tense mystery, dark tone and surprising plot twists. Emily Blunt’s deeply flawed protagonist makes this thriller worth watching for her performance alone. I also enjoyed how complicated the side characters were and how many plot revelations caught me totally off guard. Enjoyed purely on the merits of entertainment, good acting and clever storytelling, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a solid thriller!