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An uneven ride that barely stays on track
FEW things resonate more with a female audience than a story about a woman on the verge: of a breakdown, an affair, a murder mystery. All these and more are present in The Girl on the Train, a psychological thriller that is a lot less substantial than it appears to be. Like the train in the title, it trundles along smoothly at times, then grinds to a halt at the most inopportune moments.
The film, directed by Tate Taylor from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson, is adapted from a best-seller by British author Paula Hawkins. It moves the action from England to America but the story itself remains faithful to the novel. It's a time-shifting tale told from the perspective of three young women whose lives are intertwined. Their men are not quite on the periphery, but they occupy a metaphorical backseat much of the time.
Which is a good thing, because the women in question all perform rather well. The star turn goes to Emily Blunt, who plays Rachel, a self-destructive alcoholic with an added penchant for voyeuristic behaviour. She spends a lot of time drunk, deeply unhappy and gazing out of the window on a commuter train plying the route between the suburbs where she lives and New York City where she once worked.
The daily journey takes her past the house she once shared with Tom (Justin Theroux), now her ex-husband, having replaced her with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), the former mistress who produced the one thing that Rachel couldn't: a baby. It was the source of Rachel's marital problems and the reason why she's now chugging vodka out of a water bottle.
To compound her misery, Rachel's overactive imagination allows her to ponder the lives of the people in the houses the train passes, giving them lives that are more fulfilling than her own. Her main focus is on Megan (Haley Bennett), a young woman who conveniently happens to be on the balcony of her house each time Rachel's train passes by.
Megan is sometimes joined on the balcony by husband Scott (Luke Evans), and Rachel imagines them to be the perfect couple, a universe away from her own sorry situation. Unknown to her, Megan is also babysitting for Tom and Anna.
When she's not staring into the distance with a pained look on her face, Megan is in psychiatrist Kamal Abdic's (Edgar Ramirez) office, trying to lift the emotional weight of past burdens from her shoulders.
One day, Rachel sees Megan kissing a different man, shattering her notion of a happy couple. The next evening, after a booze-filled binge, she winds up bruised, bloodied and dishevelled, with no memory of how she ended up that way.
Then the news that Megan is missing gives her a renewed - if warped - sense of purpose, propelling her into action and presenting her with an opportunity to get involved.
Rachel's brain was addled but she may have witnessed something important on the night Megan vanished. Meanwhile, the female detective (Allison Janney) who works the case all but dismisses Rachel as an unreliable witness - but not as a potential suspect.
The narrative is split up and told from each woman's point of view, then reassembled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
None of the main characters is particularly likeable but The Girl on the Train works to some degree thanks to Blunt's no-holds-barred impression of, yes, a train wreck. Otherwise, we'd have gotten off the train long before the end.