Viewers will be quick to compare Tate Taylor’s The Girl On The Train with David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both are twisted tales of suburban intrigue, both are deviously deceptive, and both are based off best-selling literary works. Even better, any connections are meant as praise, and well deserved. Long Island plays backdrop to a searing story of betrayal and bloodshed, as Taylor somehow translates literature’s line-by-line, page-turning sensation to screen unlike similar adaptations have been able to manage. Fans of Paula Hawkins’ novel will be mystified and shell-shocked all over again, sharing in the brutal tension that newer audiences will embrace with a detective’s enthusiasm. Maybe there’s even some Oscar buzz to come? I’m not quite sold, but the seed has been planted…
Emily Blunt stars as a drunk, mentally unstable divorcée (Rachel Watson) who’s still obsessed with the life she once had. Every morning, five times a week, she rides the same LIRR train to New York City. Same car, same seat, same window. She wants the perfect view to a happy couple who are living out her own dreams, until one morning brings about a scene of infidelity. The assumed wife – who we learn is Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) – can be seen kissing another man. This sends Rachel into an intoxicated, blackout spiral, followed by a particularly rough morning that comes with news of Megan Hipwell’s disappearance. Rachel surely couldn’t have anything to do with the vanishing woman – could she?
Everything starts and ends with Ms. Blunt, who delivers an enigmatic performance as a deeply haunted, tweaked woman who clearly is not in a healthy headspace. She wavers in and out of consciousness through a constant drip of plastic-bottle vodka, as Blunt embraces a tormented persona caught between personal gratification and a want to buck current trends. The way she’s able to disconnect from social normalcy so Rachel can stagger about in a stupor is only outdone by Blunt’s emotionally arresting journey through both psyche and a thorn-bush maze of redemption. Everything falls apart if not for the lynch pin that is Rachel Watson, who ends up being the tragic, genuinely unaware protagonist who could disregard judgement with such believable ease. Blunt takes us on one hell of a homegrown sleuthing journey, and just may be academically recognized for it.
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Looking further than Blunt’s gaze, supporting players assert themselves with necessary restraint. Taylor is tasked with building a mystery, which means that certain characters must be handled with understated deftness. Justin Theroux plays slick and skeezy with certain reform, and while his inclusion may not be the best red herring (especially for those of you that know the story), he’s the aggressor Blunt needs to work against. Haley Bennett, meanwhile, has her own disenchanted inner quarrels about becoming a tied-down family woman, and (once again) Luke Evans isn’t the best red herring as her husband Scott, but they work well together nonetheless. Rebecca Ferguson weasels her way in as the fifth side to this strange relationship pentagon as well, all of whom collectively mold a suburban who-done-it case that skewers and satirizes the American dream.
Once divorce drama and drunkenness give way to a much deeper-rooted dilemmas, The Girl On The Train hits its true stride. Earlier world building sometimes becomes a bit too expected and existential, as much bigger ideas are eventually whittled down into truths. Lofty, idealistic monologues about perception versus reality float about initially – but once Taylor tightens his focus, Rachel’s investigation turns into a ripe, juicy bite of anticipation and dread.
The deeper Rachel submerges herself in Meghan Hipwell’s disappearance, the more she implicates herself, and the more we yearn to see how she can turn the tides of blame. Questions fly and doubts settle in, all leading to a finale that lands with an emphatic, bloodthirsty punch. My horror sensibilities were pleasantly surprised by the darkness that eventually cast a shadow over Taylor’s film, especially in brief moments where characters are forced to “go there,” we’ll say. The true details are better left experienced first hand…
It might be a tad light when matched against the wittiest mysteries, but for all intents and purposes, The Girl On The Train is a tightly-wound Hitchcockian ride wrought with tension. Elements of voyeurism, self-loathing and murderous intent mix together in a volatile cocktail stirred gently by director Tate Taylor, who doesn’t dilute a single ingredient. Some might claim that certain choices dull shock value a tad, but performances are good enough where someone’s more obvious arc still beams with inherent intrigue (nameless as not to spoil). I’ll be as “Blunt” as I can be (heh) – thrills, chills and (brief) gory spills await you in this seedily invasive literary homage. Punch your ticket and take a spiralling ride into madness that’s lined by white picket fences…
Director Tate Taylor doesn't quite hold his cards close with The Girl On The Train, but he plays them like a winning hand nonetheless.