There are a few things about this version of The Girl on the Train that I like. First and foremost is the idea of just letting Emily Blunt play full-on, alcoholic crazy—that type of blinding drunkenness that she never gets the chance to do on screen. Blunt seems to specialize in characters who are in total control, which is why it’s fantastic allowing her to go red-faced, embarrass-yourself-at a-party, blackout blotto. Going along with that character—the bitter, divorced Rachel, whose husband Tom (Justin Theroux) not only cheated on her, but ended up marrying his mistress, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and having a child with her that Rachel never could have—are an endless series of moments where Rachel crawls through mud, slurs her words, and confronts the new wife in the scariest possible way.
Another element of the adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel (written for the screen by Erin Cressida Wilson) that I liked was the idea of a drunk’s memory being less than reliable. Many key events in Rachel’s drunken history are missing or suppressed, but have been filled in to her later by others on the scene. It’s not the most reliable system, but it keeps Rachel in the misery to which she has grown accustomed. This idea of the lead character’s memories being something of an unreliable narration is fascinating, even if it isn’t explored as thoroughly and satisfyingly as it could have been.
The Girl on the Train’s biggest issue is that it’s shockingly dull and uninspired. A young woman goes missing near the beginning of the film, turns up dead later, and director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) wants his work to be a spine-tingling, mind-bending mystery so badly that he ignores the opportunities to really open up his twisted lead character and let her crazy flag fly. If you don’t figure out who the killer is in the first 15 minutes, it’s only because you fell asleep for the first 14. Granted, the “Why?” is the more important question, but even that is jarringly revealed in such a way that I can’t imagine you’d care. Author Hawkins and screenwriter Wilson have created a film populated by three primary female characters, all of whom are damaged in some unifying way; it attracts them to similar men and the same terrible things happen over and over again.
The victim in this scenario is Tom and Anna’s nanny, Megan (Hayley Bennett, in theaters now as the female lead in The Magnificent Seven), who lives on the same street with her aggressive husband Scott (Luke Evans), naturally the primary suspect in her murder. (Allison Janney plays the worst detective in the history of movie detectives.) To make things more confusing, Megan was seeing a hot therapist (Edgar Ramirez) and throwing herself at him because she can’t help herself.
I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t this movie a Rear Window-style thriller about a woman who witnesses something from her train window that might be the key to solving the murder?” It is, but even that aspect of the story is so messy and twisted up with Rachel’s obsession with and stalking of her ex-husband’s new family that it gets lost in the mix. The film moves back and forth between the present and an ever-closing proximity of time leading up to the day of the killing. Make no mistake, Rachel herself is also a major suspect in this case since even she can’t remember the moment after she got off the train near her old home (where the husband still lives) and waking up covered in blood the next morning.
Director Taylor wants us to get swept up in the majesty and fluidity of memory, especially one under the influence of inebriation. Sloppy editing sequences are strung together that indicate Rachel’s memory is slowly (as if on cue) coming back to her about the night in question. But the instant her recollection becomes crystal clear, she’s in maximum danger. The contrivances never really let up, even in the way the film portrays love and obsession, as something of a means of mutual destruction. After a while, the film’s pessimistic views on all things wore me down and out; hell, even the lead characters in Gone Girl were in love for a fleeting moment before everything turned to shit.
The Girl on the Train is a gimmick, surrounded by good-looking actors, in a story that seems inconsequential at best. It doesn’t help that the film doesn’t offer its audience an entry point into the story outside of the truly ragged Rachel. Even if half the terrible things we hear about her aren’t true, she’s still an awful, pathetic specimen who I was crawling to get away from. I’m fairly certain we’re supposed to feel some level of sympathy for her, which is possible early on. But the more we discover about her behavior, the more we see her as the offender in most situations even after all is revealed. After watching this film, I felt like I needed a shower, a stiff drink, and eight weeks of therapy to rid my brain of these characters; memory loss, take me away.