The Girl on the Train is a sexy intriguing enough thriller of the sort that predominantly was made 20 years ago. Based on the bestseller by Paula Hawkins, it has interesting references to gender politics abound and there’s enough mystery to keep you involved but the real strong point of the film is an effective performance from Emily Blunt.
Part of the appeal of any mystery thriller is not knowing too much about the plot and letting twists unfold. So keeping it short, the premise of the opening moments is Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a recent divorcee and high functioning alcoholic trying to move on with her life. Catching the train to work every day she notices a woman Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) outside the train window in a house that can be viewed from the commute. It’s a nice house, she’s pretty and her husband Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) seen in evenings on the way home is handsome. Ideals for her own happiness are projected onto the seemingly perfect life these two seem to have. However it is all a matter of perspective and the young woman goes missing.
The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister? The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other. That goes the same for Rachel Watson and the third major female character in the film Anna Boyd played by Rebecca Ferguson. Most people are many things and then there are some who are not. Some who are different from us, the kind who would harm someone, maybe murder them.
The Girl on the Train has a lot of fun making us wonder who out of the main characters have done something like that and why. Motivations appear for everyone and our central protagonist realises through the fog of alcoholism she can’t trust what she has seen or knows with any certainty which is a neat place to put our lead character and audience. The narrative is not told in a linear fashion but split and told from the point of view of Rachel, Megan and Anna providing new insight into previous scenes. Like a lot of mysteries it may hold less interest once you know the outcome.
The cast may pull you back though, Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband Tom trying to look out for her but also trying to protect his new family Anna and their child, Rebecca Ferguson (making less impact here than she did in the last Mission Impossible) as Anna once the other woman now a new mother more fearful and tired than she was before the baby, Luke Evans as Megan’s handsome but imposing husband who is the most obvious suspect but also most obvious patsy, Edgar Ramirez as Dr. Kamal Abdic as Megan’s thoughtful psychiatrist who may helping himself more than Megan, Allison Janney as the cynical Detective Sergeant Riley cop who trusts the evidence far more than troubled eye witnesses and Darren Goldstein who stares at Blunt in bars near where the girl went missing. Who of them is guilty of something? Who of them is innocent? Who amongst us could say we’re both. Some characters get more time to tell their story; some actors make a bigger impact with their performance than others.
None more so than Blunt who is the main reason to see the film. With bleary eye make-up applied and she still looks like Emily Blunt, one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. Whether she looks dowdy is irrelevant to the story, she is hurting and she is a wreck. Beauty can’t do much about that in the end. We see her full of pain and regret and anger but also fear and doubt. Most importantly though we see she is trying to do the right thing even if she is imperfect and broken and we’re right there with her. Blunt acts so well, whether crying on cue in a one take close up shot on her face during a confession or when screaming manically at mirrors as anger comes to the forefront. She sells the character being capable of several mental states and therefore capable of vastly difference actions perhaps. It is after all a matter of perspective.
The film directed by Tate Taylor is effectively moody, the fogginess of American East Coast winter supporting the feeling of fogginess one gets from intoxication. This is a bleak place with not much colour or warmth, a perfect place to commit murder where people hide in their houses and defer from walking streets too much and woods stretch out on the horizon capable of hiding too many secrets where people wouldn’t dare to tread. Fincher made a better looking film that shocked with where it took its leads in Gone Girl a couple of years ago but you can’t have a Gone Girl every year. This will do nicely for that market and maybe some will enjoy it more. After all it is all a matter of perspective.