Here we are already in October with the summer movie season well behind us and the crowded awards season and holiday movie slate just around the corner. It’s always this time of year where I really start looking for movies to get interesting and start to really have an impact. As a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and with our Critics’ Choice Movie Awards nominations due in less than two months, I like to say I’m looking for movies to blow me away. I remember when “Michael Clayton” was that type of drama in 2007. It was a film that certainly had potential since George Clooney was the star, but it exceeded expectations. It’s sort of been the model of the type of adult drama that I hope gets my attention during the early fall.
So along comes “The Girl on the Train” — which has all the makings of a film that fits that pattern. Based on a best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, the story focuses on a black out drunk recovering from a brutal divorce named Rachel, played by Emily Blunt. She rides the train each day into New York City and her route not so coincidentally takes her right past the backyards of the neighborhood where she used to live. Each and every day she rides the train back and forth and tries to sneak a peek into the lives of the people who used to be in her life. Her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) is now married to a pretty blonde named Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Rachel watches their now seemingly perfect life through an alcohol-soaked lens from the train.
When Tom and Anna’s neighbor and nanny Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) mysteriously vanishes, Rachel thinks she knows who is responsible. But her life is such a mess and the memories so hazy from the binge drinking, the police investigating Megan’s disappearance start to think Anna is the main suspect.
I should mention that I haven’t read the book, so I didn’t know the story at all. Director Tate Taylor (“The Help” and “Get on Up”) does a pretty decent job of weaving these interconnected stories back and forth with jumps in the timeline. Early on it gets rather confusing and some of that is clearly intentional. But if you’re like me and don’t have the story down from the book, it’s a lot of work to figure out what’s really going on.
Emily Blunt is just flat out terrific in this role. I’m guessing its tough enough to play a raging drunk in a scene or two, but Blunt has to carry most of the movie in a stupor and it’s completely convincing — especially since her face is physically altered with the help of prosthetics. It’s the type of performance that in a better overall movie would probably garner her a lot of best actress support, but I’m not sure that’s coming down the line. “The Girl on the Train” unravels quite a bit as it nears its big reveal about who actually committed the crime. It’s always tough with stories like this because the page-turning anticipation that you experience with a good book is difficult to recreate in a big screen adaptation. It’s my understanding that Taylor adds some characters and even changes the dynamic between Rachel and Megan’s husband (Luke Evans), and also the story line of her therapist Kamal and the role he plays in the mystery. The book is also set in London and the backdrop here is New York.
The journey through Anna’s intoxicated lens is more satisfying than the final stop on the destination and the plot comes off the tracks. With so much potential it becomes rather infuriating to see some of these characters do things that nobody in the real world would ever do. I’m a little disadvantaged since, again, I haven’t read the book. But the story builds to a conclusion at times in such ludicrous ways that you sort of want to scream at the screen and say, “THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!” This is not a unique problem to Hollywood thrillers with big plot reveals, but I thought “The Girl on the Train” might have been different.