Or at least, the first half or so of The Girl on the Train would like to tell you that. It is, unsurprisingly, the better half of the film. In it, Rachel (Emily Blunt) is our unreliable narrator – one of my most favorite concepts in the medium. She is drunk, unhappy – a true trainwreck.
We see her ride the Metro North, passing by her old house and the lives that are wrapped up there. Her ex-husband (Justin Theroux), his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and, a few doors down, the sexy neighbors played by Luke Evans and Haley Bennett. Like anyone on any mode of public transportation, she makes up little stories about these people; their lives, their problems and especially, their happinesses. The film plays with time and perspective; often jumping ahead in the narrative and then scrolling back to an earlier incident. Nor does it ever come clean as to whether or not what we are seeing happened at all. Is this is all in Rachel’s head? Maybe. Maybe not.
There’s a murder that brings things to light and soon the question is: whodunnit? When you finally figure it out – or rather, when the film finally catches up to your sensibilities (there’s really only one logical answer), every bit of interesting goodwill it has developed falls away. No, apparently women can’t be fuck-ups. Agency is robbed of everyone – except the prime suspect, who is in fact the only one actually doing anything. The rest of the cast, and predominantly the women, are left to be little chess pieces moved on a board. Rachel ends up being a confused, drunk, unhappy victim; another pawn in a game played by the villain. Even reading this now, I’m sure you can figure out who wears the black hat.
Blunt carries herself well. She makes a great hot mess. Smeared eyeliner, shakiness and an uncomfortableness in her own skin. She knows she screwed up, but is never quite sure to what extent. One of our most dynamic actresses, capable of playing badass warriors and fall-down alcoholics, Blunt singlehandedly carries this movie. She’s charismatic and immediately owns the screen.
Her co-stars are less developed – by nature of the story, I suppose – though they all handle themselves admirably. Bennett gets some seriously emotional work late in the game, though her efforts as a harlot do not go unnoticed. Having just seen her assume noble command in The Magnificent Seven (REVIEW) , it is a pleasure to see how much range the young actress possesses. Expect to see her more and more in the coming years.
Danny Elfman provides the score, which is surprisingly un-Elfman like. Effective and suitably creepy. The entire production is well put together, especially considering all the little tics and time shifts and memories they have to cram in there. The back and forth along the timeline never gets easy to handle. I often found myself adrift whenever a new title card stating ‘Two Months’ ago came up, simply because the events shown are fairly up-to-date in the main timeline.
Ultimately, The Girl on the Train wants to be Gone Girl , a tale of a non-traditional female role in narratives, but it pulls all its punches by the end. The lack of David Fincher is present. The resolution is unsatisfying and pedestrian; a banal finale that wants to be shocking but plays out so straightforward, one wonders where the the first half of the movie came from. A part of me had hoped that the film would be told like Hitchcock’s Read Window, and we only ever see the titular girl on her titular train looking, observing and obsessively creating a fiction in her head. Sadly, no. The concept just helps make for a snappy title for a film that stops caring halfway through. And if the movie can’t even make it to the end of the line, why should we?