REVIEW WRITTEN BY MARK MESZOROS
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“The Girl on the Train” had so much promise.
It is based on the 2015 bestselling psychological thriller of the same name by Paula Hawkins, and it boasts one of today’s best actresses, Emily Blunt, in the lead role.
Furthermore, its director, Tate Taylor, has done fine work that includes “The Help” (2011) and “Get on Up” (2014).
But Taylor proves to be the wrong hand to guide Hawkins’ twisty-turny tale of murder, obsession and alcoholism, and Blunt — with some of the blame possibly lying at Taylor’s feet — too often is over-the-top in her performance.
“The Girl on the Train” is nonetheless relatively entertaining, but too many scenes prove unintentionally comical for it to be given much of a recommendation, and it consistently loses steam as it runs.
“My husband used to tell me I had an overactive imagination,” says Rachel (Blunt), our narrator and titular woman on a train, in the tale’s beginning. “I can’t help it.”
She also can’t keep herself from gazing out the window during her daily commute to New York as the train speeds by her former street, where her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux of HBO’s “The Leftovers”), lives in the house they once shared with his current wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”), and his and Anna’s young child.
However, much of Rachel’s interest is in the young woman who lives two houses down. Rachel doesn’t know Megan (Haley Bennett) — in fact, she invents different names for her — but she has become invested in her life, or what she imagines that life to be.
Rachel also drinks. A lot. On the train and off.
As a result, she blacks out, a habit dating back to the days she and Tom were trying to get pregnant. She also seems to be leaving Tom a bunch of message during these blackouts.
One day while the train is going by the all-important houses, Rachel spots Megan on her rooftop porch in the arms of another man, and they appear to be romantic. This is quite troubling to Rachel, because this man is not Megan’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans, of the second two “Hobbit” films). In fact, this fills her with rage and she apparently gets off the train to go confront Megan.
(Words such as “seems” and “apparently” are needed in discussing the story, because so much of what we see are blurry recollections — accurate or otherwise — of Rachel’s from when she’s wholly under the influence of alcohol.)
Rachel returns from her excursion bruised and bloody, and Megan is soon reported missing.
Did Rachel kill her? She doesn’t think so, but she’s not sure.
While she quickly becomes a person of interest for the police, she goes about making contact with Scott, as well as with Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez of “Hands of Stone”), the therapist Megan was seeing and the man Rachel spots with her from the train.
Throughout the story, which is told in nonlinear fashion — we are taken back months, and then even a couple of years to Rachel’s and Tom’s dark days — we are given more information about all the key players. We learn, for instance, that Scott desperately wants a baby, but that the job Megan takes as the nanny to Tom’s and Anna’s child pushes her even from that desire.
Tate lays on the misdirection pretty thick, peppering “The Girl on the Train” with Rachel’s blurry remembrances, many of which aren’t filmed all that well. They are meant to disorient us and keep us off the scent. And yet it’s pretty easy to guess the answer to Hawkins’ riddle, even if all the pieces don’t easily fall into place right away.
Without having read the book — which is easy to imagine is a real page-turner — it’s hard to know who’s most to blame, but Erin Cressida Wilson no doubt shares in it. (She was the co-writer of the similarly disappointing “Men, Women & Children” from director Jason Reitman in 2014, so she’s a prime suspect.)
Blunt, so good in recent years in “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Sicario,” can’t figure out the right touches for Rachel. To her credit, her Rachel looks ragged — appearing every bit to be a woman who’s life is being ravaged by booze — but Blunt doesn’t find a way to make us sympathize with her character, which is needed here.
The rest of the performances are average, except, perhaps, for that of Bennett, who also can be seen in theaters in “The Magnificent Seven.” It helps that her Megan is the most interestingly written character, one who possesses dark thoughts and a potentially murky past.
With all of the secrets, distrust and suspicion in Hawkins’ story, the cinematic “The Girl on the Train” should be no worse than a guilty pleasure. Instead, this is a train that, while never completely wrecking, runs further off the tracks as it speeds along its poorly plotted course.