By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
The tagline for this movie boasts, “Based on the thriller that shocked the world.” After watching the movie and comparing it to a handful of genuinely shocking movies that were presented at Fantastic Fest last week, it is difficult for me not to laugh at this bold claim. Honestly, though, I have not read Paula Hawkins’s novel of the same name, but if the film adaptation is faithful to its source, shocking is a tad too strong of a description of it. Still, shocking or not, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have succeeded in making a compelling and thrilling whodunnit mystery movie that involves the troubled lives of three different women.
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is a women truly troubled and lost. Unable to bear a child, Rachel dives head-first into alcoholism and this self-destructive behavior leads to a divorce from husband Tom (Justin Theroux). Tom eventually remarries a realtor named Anna and the two succeed in bearing a child. All the while, Rachel continues her self-destructive behavior, spending her days riding a train back and forth, drinking, and spying on both her ex his new family, and their neighbors, whom Rachel believes are the perfect, happy couple. However, things are not as happy as Rachel perceives in her alcoholic haze. The perfect happy couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans), have problems of their own and soon their troubles begin to get scrutinized by law enforcement when Megan disappears. The distraught Rachel gets involved when she thinks she may have either witnessed something connected to Megan’s disappearance, or might even be involved somehow.
Well written and directed, The Girl on the Train is great mystery thriller that tells three interconnected stories of three different women with problems and issues. Taylor and Wilson (based on Hawkins’s novel) carefully and meticulously release the clues to the mystery while presenting each woman’s side of the story and superbly building up the suspense and tension. It is executed superbly and will definitely leave audiences guessing constantly, trying to discover the truth. Taylor, Wilson, and Hawkins do have an advantage, a sort of cheat that works exceptionally. Rachel, because of her drunkenness is not a reliable storyteller, and even she constantly questions what she witnesses. It is a very useful story element that makes solving the mystery even more difficult.
My only gripe with the film has to do with a few scenes that play out similarly to some melodramatic moments in soap operas. I feel that these scenes really take away from the seriousness and gravity of the scenarios in the story. As I have not read the book, I am not sure if Hawkins is to blame; however, Taylor and Wilson should have maybe tweaked these moments a bit so that they would not come across as silly contrivances.
As far as the cast is concerned, the three lead women deliver stellar performances with Blunt as a definite stand-out. Luke Evans performs well as the controlling and manipulative Scott Hipwell and Justin Theroux offers mostly solid work, but also may be partially to blame for some of the soap opera moments in the film. The movie also features fine, but limited performances by Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, and Edgar Ramirez.
Regardless of the my chief complaint with the film, I still highly recommend this film, especially for fans of mystery thrillers. While it doesn’t quite achieve the greatness of Hitchcock, it does try very hard to achieve that level and comes pretty close. My recommendation, for people who haven’t read the book first, is to see the movie without doing so, because otherwise it would spoil the suspense and mystery. Being served the clues when already knowing what is going to happen is like being served appetizers after consuming a large meal.