This review is spoiler-free.
Far from his previous inspirational period dramas about race and class, Tate Taylor’s latest directorial adaptation The Girl on the Train is a dark psychological thriller about the tightly intertwined lives of three suburban women. Emily Blunt takes the lead, thriving in her role as alcoholic divorcee Rachel, a woman who spends her daily commutes imagining the lives of people she sees out the window as her train roars by. She is especially fascinated by young blonde woman and her partner, and imagines a perfect life for them that she wishes she had herself.
On one particular commute Rachel is witness to an unusual turn of events involving the young blonde woman. Allowing her overactive imagination and intense obsessions to get the better of her, Rachel winds up in the middle of a twisted mystery and discovers she may be the one responsible for a dark crime.
The Girl on the Train takes its visual cues from its title. The cinematography is composed of brief glimpses and faces on the edges of frames, leaving the viewer often wanting a shot to linger just a little longer. The scenery, like the interior of the train, is dim and drab, awash with moody oranges and shades of blue. Most memorable are the tunnels, train carriages, thick forests and tiny bathrooms, all of which make Rachel’s world vaguely claustrophobic .
Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay divides the film into three perspectives, one for each leading woman: Blunt’s Rachel, Rebecca Ferguson’s Anna — the new wife to Rachel’s ex — and Haley Bennet’s Megan, the young blonde Rachel is fascinated by. Allison Janney and Justin Theroux round out the cast in memorable supporting roles.
Although the script is clean and clear, at times it dips so far into melodrama it becomes a soap, faintly echoing Fifty Shades of Grey instead of the masterful predecessor Gone Girl it seems to want to imitate.
Emily Blunt works wonders with what little material she has to handle; Rachel spends the majority of her screen time so heavily inebriated that at times Blunt is forced into a performance that is more physical than verbal. So much of the dialogue is voice-over or monologue that the best scenes feel more like a stage play than a film.
Initial speculations about The Girl on the Train and the casting of Emily Blunt made it seem like Blunt and her inevitably excellent performance would be a shoo-in for Oscars Season, but the film as a whole fails to reach the bar that Blunt is more than capable of setting. After her strong performance in last year’s Sicario, Blunt has more than proved her ability as a leading actor. Unfortunately The Girl on the Train hands much of the development to secondary character Megan instead. As captivating as Haley Bennet is, she is hardly capable of stealing the show from Blunt, leaving the viewer wanting more for Blunt’s part and almost resenting the talented Bennet for how much time her story takes up.
Despite a soapy, sexed-up plot and a slightly predictable twist, the film manages to succeed in making its audience just as darkly fascinated in the lives of others as its leading character. The Girl on the Train is all about perspective, reminding us that a glimpse into someone’s life doesn’t necessarily mean we have the whole picture.