If you missed it, The Girl on the Train was the first of my 10 Fourth Quarter 2016 Films to Be Excited About. As I mentioned in that column, I haven’t read the Paula Hawkins novel of the same name on which this film is based, but I love Emily Blunt (both her talent and her ability to choose interesting, engaging projects) and I love mysteries so I was a pretty easy mark for this one and they had me roped in after one viewing of the first trailer. I also love movies that are partially or entirely set on trains. I have no explanation or justification for that but, frankly, I don’t feel that I owe one. Accept me as I am, people.
Any way, The Girl on the Train centers around Blunt’s Rachel, who becomes intrigued by a woman (Megan, played by Haley Bennett) she sees each day from the window of her train and then becomes embroiled in the investigation when Megan disappears.
The story is not exactly what the trailers suggest but, as often as I’ve complained about misleading advertising, it’s okay in this case. I say that because the misdirection is in an effort to protect the twists and turns in the story, not to trick the audience into seeing a movie unlike the one they were hoping for. The Girl on the Train is very much the sultry, pulp mystery that you’re expecting.
To no one’s surprise, the cast delivers. Blunt, as usual, is especially captivating, drawing the viewer into Rachel’s head and broadcasting her thoughts and emotions through impeccable delivery, facial expressions, and body language. Even if this had been a lesser film, Blunt would have dragged it across the finish line through sheer force of will.
The characters have understandable motivations and believable (though rarely reasonable) responses to the events unfolding around them. This story is full of incredibly scarred and damaged people who have no idea how to cope with their pasts in anything resembling a healthy manner. Mix a bunch of those people together and it’s downright combustible. Not to mention that, for the most part, none of them are likable. But hang in there. Not all is as it seems.
The story, itself, is fine but not as nimble as I had hoped. It gets better and holds together much more sensibly as it gets further in, but the beginning is a little rough. The entire progression of events is predicated upon the idea that Megan has severe exhibitionist tendencies and likes to parade around in her underwear (or less) on her balcony or in her house, as close to a window as possible, every single time that a train goes by, whether it’s day or night. I suppose it’s possible that the audience is only being shown the train rides where Rachel sees Megan and director Tate Taylor just isn’t wasting our time with the rest but, if this is the case, it needs to be made more clear. Because what couple has sex at night next to the living room window with the lights on as a train goes by? Some would, I suppose, but it stuck out as odd.
Other than that, there are some logistical issues regarding the formation of some of the relationships. A little bit of the narrative is reliant upon some fairly heavy coincidence. I’ve seen far worse, though, and the coincidences aren’t so overwhelming that they’re hard to accept as plausible given the circumstances surrounding them.
Again, though, once it gets rolling, the story gains both footing and confidence and I found myself engaged in the proceedings. I had a pretty rough day, today, but the movie still not only held my attention but made me care about the outcome, never allowing me to think back on the events of earlier for more than a few seconds at a time (mostly during scene transitions and establishing shots). That’s a pretty big compliment as I’m someone who stews over events that result in my having bad days.
The film has also often been mentioned in the same breath as Gone Girl for pretty obvious reasons. While there are some similarities in the premise and first two acts, this is not Gone Girl. In fact, whether intentionally or not, the film has a little bit of fun with those comparisons and also with some of the heavy criticisms leveled at that previous film. Keep your ears open for a line towards the end. I chuckled on the inside and you will, too, if you get the reference.
When it comes down to it, I was hoping for a 9 (out of ten) from The Girl on the Train and I got a 7 (still out of ten. Keep up.). So that’s pretty good, but some of the issues in the first act hold it back from being truly great. Certain aspects are great, however, and I had a good time with it, overall. It’s not perfect, but it’s engaging, surprising, and even a little trashy (in a good way) all while being anchored by another high-quality performance by Emily Blunt. If that sounds like your cup of tea, put on your detective cap and head out to your local theater!
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