Thursday, October 6, 2016

Film review: "The Girl on the Train"

“The Girl on the Train” feels like it wants to be the next “Gone Girl,” but it doesn’t quite have the same twisted pretzel of emotional anguish and expertly boiling plot. That film constantly raised the stakes, but this one often wanders in a self-medicating daze like its heroine.

Did I say heroine? The best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins actually has three, all of whom share the first-person perspective at points. Emily Blunt is the clear star here, so director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson take the curious route of telling the story through her eyes, then pulling aside to reveal stuff she couldn’t possibly have seen or known.

The result is a confused and confusing psycho-sexual thriller that plays like a “Roshomon” that wanders deep into a thicket of shifting perspectives it can’t sort out itself. Then it rescues things through conventional plot devices it dusted off from other movies.

The movie’s one saving grace is Blunt, who goes deep into her character of Rachel, who’s an utter mess. Her marriage cratered because of her alcoholism and their inability to have a baby – not to mention her husband Tom’s (Justin Theroux) philandering. Now he’s married to the woman he was cheating on her with, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and they’ve just had a gorgeous daughter.

They’re living in Rachel’s old house next to the rail line in Ardsley, a quiet upstate New York commuter town. Every day, Rachel takes the train into the big city, ostensibly for her job but also so she can spy on them and dissolve into a pool of resentment and self-pity. Constantly sipping from a CamelBak water bottle she’s secretly filled with clear booze, Rachel is perpetually stumbling around and experiencing blackouts.

She’s also become fixated on another woman who lives two doors down, Megan (Haley Bennett), a blonde goddess with a hunk of a husband, Scott (Luke Evans), whose amorous attentions toward her are fervent. (Jeez, buy some window shades, folks.)

But there’s more to each woman’s tale than meets the eye, and the strain becomes more intense when Megan goes missing. The cops (Allison Janney plays the chief detective) come sniffing around Rachel, who seems like a top suspect. She had a blackout that day and doesn’t remember much, but was seen chasing Megan and shouting insults at her. And Rachel woke up that night covered in blood.

Blunt really grunges herself up for the role – hollow eyes, ragged lips, tangled hair, even a bit of mustache. She dresses one step up from a bag lady and talks about the twin delusions of rage and envy she has toward the other women. “She’s what I lost. She’s everything I want to be,” she says.

At least early on, much of the appeal of “The Girl on the Train” is exploring such a broken character and contemplating the prospect that she may actually be guilty of some horrendous crime. Flashbacks show her being capable of violence, and even once stole into Anna’s house while she was asleep and carried the baby off into the back yard.

But things spin sideways. We’re introduced to a therapist (Edgar Ramirez) who was treating Megan and may be complicit. Rachel undertakes an amateur Nancy Drew act, befriending Scott and then signing up for her own sessions with the therapist. Just when it feels like the story should be building toward something, it just seems to devolve.

I won’t belabor the clunky maneuvers of the plot, other than to say you’ll probably figure out the true villain long before they’re revealed. It’s never a good thing when the audience reaches the final stop far ahead of the train.

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