It didn’t take me long to read Paula Hawkins explosive best-selling novel. I was hooked from the preface and onward.
Told through the viewpoints of three women, but based on the title character, its a read that’s difficult to put aside when personal matters need attending to. The film adaptation is somewhat another issue.
An irresponsible narrator turns out to be an unreliable eyewitness to a crime in this tricky “psychological thriller” whose illusions are less important than its riveting leading lady. Emily Blunt (“The Devil Wears Prada”/”The Young Victoria”/”Sicario”) is Rachel, a wounded, perhaps wronged guilt-ridden suburban divorcee who finds herself mixed up in a missing persons case. The English/American actress displays a range of emotions that beset the titled character and attracted my interest. It’ll be a major transition to portray the saintly child-minder in the upcoming remake of “Mary Poppins”.
There are components of the “Gone Girl” scenario which highlight the “did he-didn’t he” aspect of the plot which could have been incorporated in a blunted network television pilot. Rachel spends most of her time speaking in voiceover. “My husband used to tell me I have an overactive imagination,” she says at the start of the film, shortly before we learn that her overactive imagination is one of the only things she got to keep in the divorce. And it hasn’t exactly been serving her well in her single life: A violent alcoholic who’s been crashing on her friend’s messy spare room for the better part of two years, Rachel seems to spend most of her time riding the commuter rail between the suburbs and New York’sGrand Central Station (the novel’s setting is London), and projecting her fantasies onto the beautiful suburbanites she sees in the houses that run along the tracks. Rachel sits by herself on the commuter train, watching, pondering, wondering and narrating, turning her “overzealous imagination” onto the houses whose back porches she glimpses each day as she rides into the city. She builds imagined lives and passionate love affairs.
There’s one couple in particular who she always looks for as the train whips by their windows, a beautiful blonde named Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). “She’s what I lost,” Rachel convinces herself. It seems the grass is never as green as it looks from the other side.
In narration, Megan identifies herself as “the mistress of self-reinvention,” a woman who’s never been comfortable as being any one thing to any one person. Perhaps feeling a bit too defined by her marriage to her husband, she begins seducing her therapist (Edgar Ramírez). Rachel is accustomed to seeing Megan stand on the patio of her house in nothing but her underwear. Rachel’s entire world starts to crumble after she spots the stranger getting real close with another man on her patio. She grows obsessed. She sticks her nose into it. And when Megan goes missing a little while later, it’s Rachel who wakes up the next morning with blood all over her clothes and no recollection of where she’d been the previous night.
So begins a murder-mystery in which the self-hating heroine thinks she might be the killer, even though literally every other character she encounters had more concrete motivation to commit the crime. In fact, she isn’t even aware of her only provable connection to the victim: Until the time of her disappearance, Megan had been babysitting for Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his flowering new wife (Rebecca Ferguson).
“The Girl on the Train,” reads like an Agatha Christie story, covering the obviousness of its whodunnit, while the film nods to ideas focusing on energy, suspense and softcore sex appeal. Its definitely Rachel’s story, though all of these women are defined by the men in their lives, but only Rachel is afraid of herself, afraid of the woman she’s become. “I have to remember…,” she says, referring to both the night of the murder and the person she used to be.
Blunt plays Rachel as a woman flushed with failure and dizzy with the rage that she directs towards herself, suggesting Shakespearian poignancy. The actress does her considerable best with this exasperating and plaintive role. In movies from “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Sicario”, Blunt has shown that she can look good while being ill or messed up: strong, believable, human, vulnerable. But this part doesn’t give her any latitude: she just always looks under the weather, always in an alcoholic haze. Blunt gives all of herself in a worthy performance, and arguably the best in her career. Despite admiring here work here, fans of Paula Hawkins’s thriller might find themselves sticking to the book. I enjoyed the film, but relished the source material.
Written by: Alex Reynolds