“The Girl on the Train” Movie Review


     If there’s any apparent problem with director Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train”, it’s simply the fact so many similar films have preceded it which many consider to be classics.  That’s not to say Taylor’s film, based on the wildly popular novel by Paula Hawkins, isn’t any good, it is, but it doesn't help when your film is being compared to something so recent, as critics have continually pointed out similarities to David Fincher’s 2014 crime thriller “Gone Girl”.  And indeed one of the first things I noticed was the same drab color palette utilized in everything from “Seven” to “House of Cards” by Fincher present in Taylor’s film, which all the more warrants the comparison since those choices have a lot to do with both tone and tension from a visual storytelling perspective.

     I would take it a step further and say “The Girl on the Train” harks back to some of the best Hitchcock thrillers of the 50s and 60s, as well as Brian DePalma’s better stuff from the 70s and 80s.  This was especially the case when a short sequence has one of the characters sitting in an art gallery pondering the situation she has found herself in, which has to be a homage to DePalma’s “Dressed To Kill”.  All that being said, “The Girl on the Train” holds up nicely on its own and is powered not only by Hawkins’ source material and Taylor’s taut direction, but also from Erin Cressida Wilson’s script which sets up this nightmarish scenario in a non linear fashion that works well.

     One of the best aspects of the film is the fact all of the main characters are female and for the most part relegate their male counterparts to supporting roles.  That’s important because we don’t see these films often enough, and female actresses are typically cast in what was likely deemed as traditional roles in the 1950s, but for some reason is still the case today.  Emily Blunt, who plays the lead character Rachel, headlined last year’s “Sicario”, playing an FBI Agent who is introduced to the underworld of fighting drug cartels in Mexico.  Here she plays a completely different character. 

     Rachel is “The Girl on the Train” which the title refers to.  She has recently found herself divorced from her husband Tom (Justin Theroux, whose outstanding work on HBO’s “The Leftovers” is a highlight of that series.), of whom she discovered was cheating on her shortly after it was determined she was unable to have children.  Alcoholism and the pain of losing her husband has engulfed her thoughts, causing her to sleepwalk through life and sink dangerously close to mental instability.  Tom’s new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), is the person Tom was having an affair with.  They now live together in the same home Tom and Rachel once occupied and also have a newborn child.  We are told of past incidents, as well as present, that indicate Rachel won’t let Tom go, continually calling and texting at all hours of the night in an effort to make contact while in a drunken stupor. 

     We also meet another couple who happens to live near Tom and Anna and have their own unique set of problems.  Megan (Haley Bennett) is a lonely housewife who previously spent time as a nanny for Tom and Anna.  She's younger and is married to Scott (Luke Evans), a possessive and emotionally abusive husband who seems to treat Megan more like property than a human being.  But then one day, Megan goes missing and no one has a clue where she might be or why she left.  She frequently visits a psychologist named Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).  Does he know where she is?  That’s the line of thinking Rachel adopts once she sees what she thinks is Dr. Abdic with Megan embracing on Megan and Scott’s backyard deck.  How does she see this?  Well thats primarily within the film’s title, as Rachel rides past her old neighborhood daily while commuting on a train to Manhattan for work.  Of course Taylor presents everything Rachel sees with a visual flair that indicates she could be imagining things while under the influence of alcohol.

     Blunt’s performance is, as usual, a powerhouse full of the emotional weight she is carrying from the trauma she suffered after finding out her husband had betrayed her.  Adding to the list of key female characters is an outstanding turn by Allison Janney as the detective assigned to both Rachel’s constant harassment of Tom and Anna, as well as the missing person case involving Megan.  Also making smaller yet effective impressions are Lisa Kudrow (“Friends”) and Laura Prepon (“Orange is the New Black”).  The story’s end game isn’t nearly as dramatic or impactful as the filmmakers would probably have hoped, but experiencing the story with all of its twists, flashbacks, hypnotic sequences, and strong female characters is where the film really excels.  We’ve seen many like “The Girl on the Train” before, but that shouldn’t take away from the solid achievement the film really is. GRADE: B