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Disorient express - 'The Girl on the Train'

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Literary phenomenon transitions to the big screen

The Paula Hawkins thriller 'The Girl on the Train' was a wildly popular bestseller, a layered narrative rife with intrigue, sex and danger along with a wave of unreliable narrators and a big twist or two; in short, a perfect candidate to be adapted to the big screen.

It's the story of a woman gone missing from the perspective of three different people, three women whose connections to one another are so complex and convoluted, there are some ties with which they don't even know that they're bound. Director Tate Taylor best known for 'The Help' and 'Get On Up' is the man tasked with bringing tale to cinematic life, working from a script adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides the same train every day and sits in the same car. She watches the same houses when she passes them one the house where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux, TV's 'The Leftovers') lives with his wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, 'Florence Foster Jenkins') and their baby daughter; the other a home featuring a young woman (Haley Bennett, 'The Magnificent Seven') and her husband (Luke Evans, 'Furious 7') that Rachel doesn't know, but for whom she has invented elaborate imaginary personalities.

It turns out Rachel who has a significant drinking problem has been constantly trying to contact her ex in a harassing manner. The young woman whose name is Megan actually works for Tom and Anna as a nanny; through sessions with her therapist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez, 'Hands of Stone'), she's confronting issues with both her job and her volatile husband Steve.

But when Rachel wakes up from one of her increasingly-common drunken blackouts covered in bruises and blood, only to learn that Megan has disappeared that same night, circumstances begin swirling out of control. A Detective Riley (Alison Janney, 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children') has started asking some hard questions questions about Rachel's ex-husband and questions about her borderline obsession with a woman who is now missing.

Rachel tries to piece together the fragments of memory she can dig up from that night, but the more she remembers, the more she realizes that something terrible is bubbling underneath the surface of it all and she has no way of knowing who is responsible and that includes herself.

'The Girl on the Train' is pretty clear on the kind of movie that it wants to be. Unfortunately, it doesn't always meet its goal. There are some struggles with pacing which particularly stings in a genre that thrives on tension. The film veers hard into melodrama on more than one occasion and there's a choppiness throughout that indicates that the filmmakers might not have had as firm a grasp on the book's fractured timeline as they should have. At times, even the look of the film felt disjointed, moving from frames of cinematic splendor to chunks that felt basic-cable-ready at best.

Still, while there are issues in the back-and-forth of the timeline and the bouncing among narrators there are A LOT of flashbacks and perspective shifts the overall narrative thrust remains fairly strong. If you're a 'solve the mystery first' kind of viewer, there's enough to keep you guessing; there was one twist in particular that genuinely surprised me (no spoilers, obviously).

This is a phenomenal performance from Emily Blunt. She is exceptional as the heartbroken, unstable Rachel, bringing a sad dignity to a woman trying desperately to maintain after her world was blown up underneath her. Bennett's Megan is chilly, packed with bottled-up and swallowed emotion following past tragedy; when the veneer cracks, it's powerful stuff. And Ferguson's Anna is bright and brittle, the epitome of the wife and mother brave-facing her way through it all. We get to spend time with each woman's POV; each actress commands her moments adeptly while also serving to advance the stories of the other two.

Theroux walks the line between exasperation and concern deftly as both the ex and current husband. Evans is good, though a bit on the nose as the standard 'maybe good/maybe bad' dude we tend to see in these thrillers. Ramirez is quietly outstanding in his handful of scenes, while Alison Janney is awesome as always because she's Alison Janney.

'The Girl on the Train' isn't a great movie; it doesn't hold up its end of the inevitable comparisons to 'Gone Girl,' for instance. It definitely stumbles a bit in terms of narrative and visual tone. That said, it's still pretty good the performances are strong across the board and there's enough mystery in the story to throw most audiences at least a few curveballs. As far as big-budget, big-screen thrillers go, you could do a lot worse.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:35

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