Sinking into the film version of the Paula Hawkins bestselling mystery-thriller The Girl on the Train, the first thing you notice missing is England. That’s right, Hollywood has replaced that misty London train from which said girl thinks she witnesses sex, violence and maybe murder with a Westchester commuter express whooshing in and out of Manhattan’s Grand Central Station. It’s just not the same.
Luckily, director Tate Taylor (The Help), working from a intriguingly dark script by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary), has made the best choice possible to portray Rachel Watson, the booze-addled, bleary-eyed, emotional wreck of the film’s title. That’s Emily Blunt, and she is perfection, playing the hell out of this blackout drunk and adding a touch of welcome empathy. Blunt digs into the role like an actress possessed – there’s not an ounce of vanity here, and she keeps her real English accent to portray a Brit transplant on the ropes in New York. The childless Rachel has lost her job, and her cheating husband Tom (Justin Theroux, oozing sleaze) has dumped her for the quickly pregnant Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
So the embittered Rachel round-trips daily into Manhattan for a P.R. job she no longer has, swilling vodka from a water bottle and gazing out the train window at a suburban home occupied by the perfect couple: sexy Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) and her hunky husband Scott (Luke Evans). Then Megan turns up bludgeoned to death in the woods near her dream home. Did Scott kill her? Or is it Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramírez), the shrink Rachel saw in a clinch with Megan? Or is it Rachel herself, who can’t remember why she woke that night bruised with her clothes caked with blood? A local detective (the reliably fine Allison Janney), wants to know.
No spoilers here, though the movie gives away the game faster than the novel. It helps loads to bask in the dark shadows of Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography and the haunting cadences of Danny Elfman’s score. The Girl on the Train lacks the bitter humor and stylish verve that director David Fincher infused into the film of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. What it wisely maintains from the novel are three unreliable narrators – Rachel, Anna and Megan, women who have a hard time being honest with us and themselves. Annoying? Not to me. I found the device, and the secret of what unites these hard-luck ladies, to be just the femcentric fuel to raise Girl to the level of spellbinder.