“The Girl on the Train” is a mystery about a missing woman, based on a novel by Paula Hawkins. It was destined from day one to be compared to similar adaptations like “Gone Girl” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Those films were supposed to be in for a big awards push, but failed to secure Oscar nominations in any major category except Best Actress. Here too is a film where I could see the lead actress claiming the sole Oscar nomination, though the film around her is perhaps too weak to make her a true contender.
The story often switches narrators, but it mainly follows Rachel (Emily Blunt). She’s a trainwreck of a person, a chaotic alcoholic who spends her days drinking and riding trains to a job she doesn’t have. She pauses only to obsess over two couples. The first is somewhat understandable: her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his former mistress and now-wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). They live in wedded bliss with the daughter Rachel always wanted. The other couple is more inexplicable: Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) are neighbors of Tom and Anna who seem to have life all figured out.
Although Rachel only ever sees them through a train window, to her they represent stability and perfection. Then one day Rachel sees Megan in the arms of another man, her psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez). Rachel is so infuriated by this betrayal that she sets out to confront Anna over Tom’s betrayal. She follows “Anna” into a tunnel, but it turns out she’s actually meeting Megan for the first time. Then she blacks out for several hours. Then she wakes up covered in blood. Then she finds out that Megan, who it turns out was a nanny for Tom and Anna, is missing. Who is responsible for Megan’s disappearance? Could it really have been Rachel, who is prone to erratic behavior and alcohol-induced blackouts and who can’t remember what happened in that tunnel?
From there, the film goes through all the paces that disappearance-based mysteries go through. Everybody has secrets, everybody takes a turn being the most likely suspect. There’s a handful of twists, and then weirdly no twist when you’d think there’s be one. I’m okay with the “perfect” characters turning out to be not so perfect, it comes with the territory. But I was disappointed that the “interesting” characters weren’t so interesting. The men are all drooling oafs in one form or another, The women are all annoyingly self-absorbed, but they fare a little better. Anna tries to maintain a relationship with a man she knows she can’t trust because it started with him lying to his wife. Megan is trying to make sense of the many mistakes she’s made in her life, including the worst mistake a mother can make. And Rachel is just trying to make it through her pathetic life. Her semblance of sanity depends on the happiness of others, and even that is quickly falling apart.
All of the performances are good in “The Girl on the Train,” better than the material deserves. The men manage to breathe life into thankless roles and the women all garner sympathy for inconsiderate characters who seem to like to fall back on the catchall justification of being “flawed.” Blunt in particular is compelling in every tearful moment with a character who is unable to survive in polite society. It’s a shame that the mystery aspect of this movie is so poorly done. I formed a theory about a third of the way through that turned out to be the solution; a twist that predictable should have another layer or two on top of it. This movie is a step down from, say, “Gone Girl,” but I wouldn’t label it an entirely useless knockoff.
Two Stars out of Five.
“The Girl on the Train” is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity. Its running time is 122 minutes.
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