The Girl on the Train (2016): Gone Girl…Not (Review)

Emily Blunt as Rachel

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the book of the same name by English author Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a splendid mix of layers hidden amongst a myriad of smoke and mirrors. The film has been compared to the 2014 film Gone Girl, but there really is nothing to bring the two together. 

There is a missing woman, which is the big theme in the Gillian Flynn novel and movie. But where the characters in Flynn’s opus are all self centered and obsessed with their own character arcs, Hawkins’ people are all illusion, pain and hidden misery.

No one is as they appear initially. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the “girl on the train,” who seems to be calm and retrospective. She fantasizes about the young woman she sees from the moving vehicle. On her journey to and from New York, she sees Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) as the “perfect couple.” 

As the film progresses we learn that the couple she “spies” on live right near where she and her ex-husband lived. Justin Theroux plays Tom, Rachel’s ex, and he has a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child Evie. 

The Girl on the Train is a long film that manages to seem much shorter than its nearly two hour running time.  We are lead down a path that twists and turns with each new revelation. Things are seen mainly from Rachel’s point of view but we are also let in on Megan’s state of mind.

Each character in the film has a secret, some hidden on purpose and others via misdirection and at least one character has the truth skewed by someone else. The end of the film, as well as the murder midway through, is surprising.

This drama/mystery/thriller is a perfect whodunit with a trail of confusing  clues that slowly but surely lead us to the killer.  It is only with the final reveal that we learn the truth and on top of it being somewhat heartbreaking for at least two of the characters  it is also shocking.

Not having read the source book by Hawkins it is unclear just how closely Tate and Wilson followed the original storyline. In the end, however, it does not really matter as the film is put together perfectly. We stick with the story, as it unfolds in fits and starts, and we get caught up in each character’s tale.

Blunt may have the best backstory and she manages, with the aid of some brilliant makeup and spot on acting, to utterly convince as the alcoholic with memory problems. She unflinchingly allows the camera to linger on her blotchy complexion and those slightly unfocused eyes. It is a real tour de force performance.

Bennett is sexy, sultry, remote and dissatisfied. It is all too easy to see where her fixation with sex comes from and her need to live in the moment.

Ferguson comes across as the trophy wife who is, like Bennett’s character, a little distant.  She has issues with Blunt’s character and emotes a certain naivety that is both sad and surprising.

Lisa Kudrow makes the most of a crucial cameo as Tom’s old boss and Allison Janney almost steals the show as Detective Riley. 

The Girl on the Train has also been called a “woman’s film” and indeed this story features a microscopic look at the three women featured in the movie. However, the film works on many more levels than just a “chick flick” and as a mystery/thriller hits every single note without one miss.

By the end of the film we care and feel for each major female character. It says a lot about the quality of the script, the acting and the direction that we can empathize with everyone but the one real villain of the piece.

The Girl on the Train is a full 5 star film.  Once one begins watching it, there is no question that it must be finished. The urge to learn the truth amidst all the false clues and misremembered events overwhelms all. Watch this film now and get caught up in the story and its characters.

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Author: Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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