Saturday 5 November 2016

Movie Review: The Girl On The Train (2016)

A mystery thriller delving into topics of addiction, abuse, control and mental illness, The Girl On The Train introduces an intriguing premise with plenty of style, but ultimately meanders to a stock conclusion.

Hopelessly addicted to alcohol, Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides the commuter train daily back and forth to Manhattan. On the way she passes the house of her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), who is now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom and Anna carried on an affair behind Rachel's back after she and Tom were unable to conceive. Two doors down and also visible from the train is the house were Megan (Haley Bennett) lives with her husband Scott (Luke Evans). Rachel does not know Megan, but from a distance the relationship between Megan and Scott appears idyllic.

What Rachel doesn't know is that Megan has had a miserable life, and is now seeing psychologist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez) to try and hold herself together while she works as a nanny for Tom and Anna. With Rachel descending ever deeper into an alcoholic stupor and apparently harassing Tom and Anna, she spots Megan cuddling with a strange man. When Megan suddenly disappears the same day that Rachel blacks out from too much alcohol, Rachel inserts herself into affairs that apparently do not concern her, and she draws the attention of Detective Riley (Alison Janney), who is investigating Megan's disappearance.

An adaptation of the Paula Hawkins novel directed by Tate Taylor, The Girl On The Train has a good set-up but a relatively limp finish. The idea of a self-doubting alcoholic observing her former life from a passing train and delving into a mystery shrouded in illicit affairs is compelling, and potentially Hitchcockian. For the first two thirds of the film Taylor does a fine job creating a fog of doubt about what is going on, with flashbacks and alternative points of view helping to heighten the interconnected complexities in the lives of Rachel, Megan and Anna. The final third surrenders meekly to the most banal of resolutions, ideas running dry and the mystery defaulting to an unconvincing antagonist and questionable motivations.

The premise is built on the differences between outside appearances and inward realities. The glow of light within a house seen from a passing train suggests cozy relationships and warm comforts. But inside the walls all manners of conflict reside, and what Rachel thinks she longs for does not really exist. In its better moments the film thrives on the differences between perceptions, memories and the historical narratives as seen from different perspectives. The damage caused by alcohol, abusive relationships, and depression spike the film with emotional possibilities.

Emily Blunt carries the weight of Rachel's failed life on her shoulders and is at the centre of the all the film's better moments. She receives limited support, with all the other characters and performances limited in scope and definition. Alison Janney suffers the most, the role of Detective Riley seemingly a poorly developed afterthought.

The Girl On The Train rides through several intriguing stops. Unfortunately the film blows a crass whistle instead of properly exploiting its own possibilities.

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