I’ve long regarded British actress Emily Blunt as a rare, versatile talent, a woman who draws the audience’s attention in pretty much every film she’s in – ranging from The Devil Wears Prada, through The Young Victoria, all the way to her outstanding work in the musical Into the Woods.
This much is equally true about her leading role in The Girl on the Train. Blunt is excellent as Rachel, a depressive commuter who rides the rails into New York City every day. She’s an alcoholic, and furtively swigs from a bottle of what looks like water but is clearly something stronger. As Blunt’s bleary features and air of self-disgust suggest, she’s a mess. All these factors might lead one rightly to conclude she’s not the most reliable of narrators.
The more we learn about her, the worse things get. She had a husband (Justin Theroux) who re-married. Rachel obsesses about his new wife. She’s also intrigued by an attractive blonde woman she glimpses each day from the train; the woman lives in a house beside the tracks wither husband. She in turn works as the nanny for a neighbour, another attractive blonde woman. And then things get complicated. One of the women goes missing. So how is Rachel involved?
Paula Hawkins’s hugely successful novel, on which this film is based, worked rather well, albeit in a Gone Girl sort of way. There was nothing profound about it – or even that surprising, come to think of it – but it chugged along entertainingly with a handful of well-considered plot twists.
The film, unfortunately, lacks the energy of the novel; it feels over-busy, as if desperately tap-dancing to maintain our attention. If the book was a glossy version of a pulp thriller with a female perspective, the movie, with its throwaway Hitchcock references, and its gaggle of brutish, menacing male characters, seeks to suggest to us that it has hidden depth and significance. You’ll be disabused of that notion well before it wraps up.
None of this should detract from the excellent Emily Blunt, who throws herself into a somewhat unattractive role with what looks like an astute actress’s relish. Rachel could be played as a much spikier version of say, Bridget Jones (she can be darkly funny at times) but in truth she’s a broken, defeated woman, gorging on and made helpless by her own misery.
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