You won’t uncork a bottle of Malbec again without thinking of this film…
“The Girl on a Train” is the film adaptation of the best-seller by Paula Hawkins, transported from the London suburbs to New York’s Hastings-on-Hudson.
It’s actually rather a sordid story encompassing as it does alcoholism, murder, marital strife, deceit, sexual frustration, an historical tragedy and lashings and lashings of violence. Emily Blunt (“Sicario”, “Edge of Tomorrow”) plays Rachel, a divorcee with an alcohol problem who escapes into an obsessive fantasy each day as she passes her former neighbourhood on her commute into the city. Ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux, “Zoolander 2”) lives in her old house with his second wife Anna (Rebecca “MI:5” Ferguson) and new baby Evie. But her real fantasy rests with cheerleader-style young neighbour Megan (Haley Bennett) who is actually locked in a frustratingly child-free marriage (frustrating for him at least) with the controlling and unpredictable Scott (Luke Evans, “The Hobbit”). A sixth party in this complex network is Megan’s psychiatrist Dr Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez, “Joy”).
In pure Hitchcockian style Megan witnesses mere glimpses of events from her twice-daily train and from these pieces together stories that suitably feed her psychosis. When ‘shit gets real’ and a key character goes missing, Megan surfaces her suspicions and obsessions to the police investigation (led by Detective Riley, the ever-excellent Allison Janney from “The West Wing”) and promptly makes herself suspect number one.
Readers of the book will already be aware of the twists and turns of the story, so will watch the film from a different perspective than I did. (Despite my best intentions I never managed to read the book first).
First up, you would have to say that Emily Blunt’s performance is outstanding in an extremely challenging acting role. Every nuance of shame, confusion, grief, fear, doubt and anger is beautifully enacted: it would not be a surprise to see her gain her first Oscar nomination for this. All the other lead roles are also delivered with great professionalism, with Haley Bennett (a busy month for her, with “The Magnificent Seven” also out) being impressive and Rebecca Ferguson, one of my favourite current actresses, delivering another measured and delicate performance.
The supporting roles are also effective, with Darren Goldstein as the somewhat creepy “man in the suit” and “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow popping up in an effective and pivotal role. The Screen Guild Awards have an excellent category for an Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture, and it feels appropriate to nominate this cast for that award.
So it’s a blockbuster book with a rollercoaster story and a stellar cast, so what could go wrong? Well, something for sure. This is a case in point where I suspect it is easier to slowly peel back Rachel’s lost memory with pages and imagination than it is with dodgy fuzzy images on a big screen. Although the film comes in at only 112 minutes, the pacing in places is too slow (the screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson takes its time) and director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) is no Hitchcock, or indeed a David Fincher (since the film has strong similarities to last year’s “Gone Girl”: when the action does happen it lacks style, with the violence being on the brutal side and leaving little to the imagination.
It’s by no means a bad film, and worth seeing for the acting performances alone. But it’s not a film I think that will trouble my top 10 for the year.
Fad Rating: FFFf.