For those who don’t watch The Lifetime Network, it’s a nice change of pace to see a taut psychological thriller interweaving the lives of three troubled women. With no traditional action scenes or flashy special effects, this dark, thoughtful and intense narrative offers intelligent twists and turns that keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Based on the best selling novel by Paula Hawkins, this is a compelling character study of a trio of protagonists. Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, the recently divorced alcoholic who rides the commuter train each day between Westchester County and New York City. The typically resilient Blunt delivers a most mesmerizing performance as a dour, haunted and tragic figure. Yet she still earns an allowance of empathy and hope.
Not unlike Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954), Rachel witnesses a disturbing scenario at a home she sees every day from the train. She had romanticized the perfect lives of that happy couple for some time; but suddenly, there is something very wrong. Filled with rage, Rachel inexplicably departs at that station to hopefully right the wrong.
Haley Bennett, returning from a recent bravura performance in “The Magnificent Seven”, co-stars as Megan, the woman in that house. We learn that Megan’s life with hubby Scott (Luke Evans, “Furious 7”) is not necessarily as cheery as Rachel had fantasized. Coincidentally, Megan is a friend of Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, “Florence Foster Jenkins”), wife of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux).
Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) toggles the scenes repeatedly between the different characters to show the perspective from each point of view. Then he intersperses flashbacks as a foundation of background. He dispenses the pieces of a puzzle in a sequence deliberately designed to keep the story as blurry as Rachel sees it.
When Rachel awakens the next morning, she is covered in blood from wounds and bruises. She can’t remember much, but has a very bad feeling about what might have happened. Then TV’s breaking news reports Megan Hipwell is missing. Rachel feels invested in the life of this person, who she doesn’t even know. She must try to somehow find Megan and learn what might have happened to this delightful couple. More important, maybe she can discover what she herself was up to that same night.
Taylor includes enough plot twists and plausible red herrings to keep “Law and Order” aficionados off kilter. Admittedly, the complexity is confusing and could turn off some audience members. However, we found it to be a clever part of the experience.
A mostly deadpan dialog could be boring, but here it is riveting. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson seems to understand the horrors of alcoholism, depression and domestic abuse from a very personal level. The honest and inspired performances keep the audience emotionally engaged long enough to witness this viable morality tale.
As a legitimate big-screen thriller, “The Girl on the Train” offers the dreary and convoluted feel not seen since “Gone Girl” (2014). It’s a cold and chilling mystery, often over-melodramatic, and filled with tight shots and odd-angled poses by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Chistensen. The Danny Elfman score pulls you through every scene, while Allison Janney, Lisa Kudrow and Edgar Ramirez round out the cast.
“The Girl on the Train” is 112 minutes and rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity. As a rarity, the author of the novel, screenwriter and all three leads are female. The topic is a dark downer but is becoming ever more important. This is not for everyone, but the right audience will find it intense, engaging and entertaining.
Emily Blunt’s performance as a dreadful, self-loathing, but indomitable character is worthy of Academy recognition. Haley Bennett shines as her star continues to rise. In some ways, these characters see the grass as always greener on the other side. But maybe we should all learn from Shakespeare: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”