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Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Girl on the Train



"There are a lot of threads here that seem promising, but they don't amount to much," says Detective Allison Janney to Rebecca Ferguson during her murder investigation. That telling quote aptly sums up The Girl on the Train, director Tate Taylor's blank adaptation of the Paula Hawkins' bestseller, itself an overrated potboiler. Told mostly from the point of view of Emily Blunt, the titlular Girl on the Train and an alcoholic who gazes longingly at the home, husband and life she lost during her daily train commute into New York City, The Girl on a Train is a sober, enervating whodunit with a reveal so obvious and telegraphed, the killer all but twirls a handlebar mustache when he's found out.

In her former life, Blunt was happily married to Justin Theroux, who now lives in their house with his new wife Ferguson and their newborn. They have a nanny, Haley Bennett, who's also a next door neighbor, and Bennett is married to Luke Evans, whom the movie is at pains to describe as an emotionally abusive monster. In her daily drunken reverie, Blunt fantasizes from her train seat about the lives of these seemingly perfect people, until Bennett disappears and is murdered on the same night Blunt disembarked from the train in their neighborhood. She has no memory of why she awoke bloody and beaten the next morning. Who killed Bennett? Was it Evans? Was it her therapist Edgar Ramirez, who succumbed to Bennett's sexual advances during their sessions? Was it Blunt herself? The Girl on the Train awkwardly shifts between these possibilities, toying with what Blunt does and doesn't remember, until she eventually remembers everything, revealing the real killer to the shock of no one paying attention. 

Blunt is convincing as a drunk grasping at straws, a liability to herself and to those around her. We're meant to ultimately find her sympathetic as the story reveals in a bit of a cheat that it turns out nothing she did was actually her fault, except for all the stuff she does that's actually her fault. Ferguson is wasted in a thankless, nothing part of being Theroux's dutiful but suspicious wife, until circumstances way beyond what's acceptable forces her to literally put the screws to Theroux. Wilson and Ramirez alternate as unlikable jerks whose sole redeeming features are they weren't the ones who murdered Bennett. Bennett herself delivers The Girl on the Train's most complex performance, though the movie doesn't really mourn her loss too much, as her real value is being a plot device. Unlike the seemingly similar Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train offers little subtext or biting commentary on marriage or suburban life. As a murder mystery, it's a remedial whodunit, checking off plot points like a train making every stop along its two hour travel time.