Movie Review: 'The Girl on the Train' a Hazy Ordeal

Movie Review: 'The Girl on the Train' a Hazy Ordeal

The Girl on the Train might be the first movie I’ve seen where the sense of mystery is derived from finding out what has happened during blackout spells suffered by the protagonist, who goes through the entire film completely drunk.  

Poor Emily Blunt stars as that alcoholic, Rachel Watson, in a performance that sees her bumbling and stumbling across the screen, slurring her speech like an old drunk in a John Wayne western.

Rachel doesn’t seem to have a job, or even an home. She wakes up each morning in her friend’s apartment without memory of the previous night before heading back out with a bottle of vodka on her way to the next bar or, when she cannot even walk, onto the train. It’s been like this for a while, we learn via flashback.

But The Girl on the Train isn’t a Bukowski-esque treatise on alcoholism that attempts to get inside the character or show us the pitfalls of addiction. It’s a pathetic thriller molded after Gone Girl that uses the drinking and blackouts as nothing more than a plot device. 

Rachel doesn’t even get much to do during the narrative other than take the titular train to spy on ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife (Rebecca Ferguson), who have an infant daughter, as well as nanny Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans), who coincidentally live next door.

At some point in the movie, someone goes missing. And Rachel, who got off the train at the time and place of the disappearance, may hold the key to unravelling the mystery. But wouldn’t you know it, she suffered another blackout, depicted here by dark, fuzzy images that get clearer as the film goes along.

Is Rachel responsible? Did she witness a crime?

You can wait till the end of the movie to find out, or you can guess it halfway through, when the film inadvertently reveals the identity of the perpetrator through the Law of Economy of Characters.

The Girl on the Train boasts an excellent cast, and while Blunt overplays the alcoholic, Ferguson and Bennett both offer solid supporting turns as the other female leads; both get a chance to narrate the proceedings when it’s clear that Rachel isn’t able to tell us much.

The one real problem here is that none of these characters are sympathetic. Not Rachel, the alcoholic stalker, not Anna, who stole her husband and life, and not Megan, who seems to be cheating on herhusband. And forget about the violent, philandering male characters. 

The one character we might be able to identify with, Alison Janney’s detective, is tossed to the side as her case solved by a blackout drunk. And then there’s a shrink played by Édgar Ramírez, who the script can’t seem to figure out what to do with (in the end, nothing).

This is trashy, tawdry stuff, and it should be fun. But the alcoholism angle drains the film from its sleazy pleasures; you either feel sorry for Blunt’s pitiful lead character, or you get mad at the filmmakers for not taking her addiction seriously.

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) and adapted from Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel by Erin Cressida Wilson (Men, Women & Children), The Girl on The Train is never boring but it leaves you feeling cheap and used. What might have worked on the page is a pale comparison to Gone Girl on the screen.

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