The Girl On the Train (2016). Poor plotting and characters don’t ruin this thriller. Read my review for why.

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Film review of The Girl On the Train, starring Emily Blunt as a woman who thinks she witnesses a woman being murdered as she takes a train home from work. Directed by Tate Taylor and based on the book by Paula Hawkins.

Thriller/Suspense/Film Noir

3stars Good worth watching

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Synopsis

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a wreck. She is divorced from her husband (Justin Theroux) after her alcoholism ruined his career during his boss’ BBQ, her two week stay with a friend has turned into two years and , lonely and depressed, she spends her commute on the train to and from work fantasising about the seemingly perfect lives of her former neighbours in an affluent suburb of New York. Then, one day, her beautiful neighbour Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing around the same time that a drunken Rachel alights early and goes to confront her about her suspicions Megan is having an affair. Rachel wakes up the next day, with blood all over her and no recollection of what happened the previous night. Then, the news announced Megan has gone missing and Rachel must start to get herself together and find out what happened.

Review, by Jason Day

Is 21st century, middle-class Earth the most dangerous time and place to be a woman?

Or, depending on whose holding the corkscrew, a man?

You’d certainly think so after consuming books and films like Gone Girl and this, the big screen adaptation of the runaway bestseller by Paula Watkins.

Indulge me as I briefly digress: gender roles have altered greatly over the past 100 years to the degree modern woman and man would be all but unrecognisable to Emmeline Pankhurst.

Since female emancipation got a kick-start with women getting the vote, the contraceptive pill heralded women’s control over their sexuality and as we stutter slowly toward increasing professional equality, men have experienced a masculine ‘anomie’.

No longer cock-sure of their place in the world, but still knowing who’s ‘boss’ in terms of their physicality and in the bedroom, is aggression and psychological domination a man’s only hold over women in the post-feminist world?

United Nations figures show violence against women has increased “significantly” in recent years. Some national studies show that up to 70% of women report being physically or sexually attacked by their intimate partner during their lifetime.

To come back to film, cinema may be slightly slower to catch on to social trends, but ultimately movies are ‘greenlit’ for production that reflect the world outside the studio.

Violence toward women in films is not a new phenomenon. From Mae Marsh chucking herself from a cliff to avoid being raped in The Birth Of A Nation (1915) to Janet Leigh’s infamous shower of suffering in Psycho (1960), female film characters like their real-world counterparts have repeatedly been on the receiving end of the dark side of machismo.

But now the political, social and legal discussions of the past have devolved into crazed cinematic fist fights such as Gone Girl and this crisply ravishing film where sex and love are used by men and women to ensnare, control and torture each other. Chucking yourself under the King’s horse at the Grand National and ‘Votes For Women’ marches seem like distant walks in the park.

Perhaps as a man I’m biased when looking at these films and books (I definitely sided with Nick in Gone Girl, emotionally constipated pig though he undoubtedly was), but The Girl On The Train features some of the most one-dimensional, bad Adams Apples, completely eschewing ambiguity.

A controlling man with obsessive, stalking tendencies, a Psychiatrist who encourages sexual feelings in his patient, a irredeemably unfaithful husband, Watkins definitely used up all of the tick boxes of shitty maledom.

Her women? Needy, clingy, accepting, damaged, emotionally fragile – a few more boxes ticked then.

My main bugbear with Girl On the Train is not that it works with stereotypes, but that is hinges too heavily on them. There is no proper background information, no psychological shading and this is a psychological thriller after all; everyone seems ‘off the peg’ and from an economy screenwriting manual too.

This is especially true of the male characters, who are uniform slime balls. Fine and I have no problem with that, I don’t even need them to have any redeeming traits, but why are they so horrible to women? We get a smidgen of motivation, but not enough. Again, is this just because I’m a guy?

On this point, I must also add a note about Allison Janney (an exceptional actress, for whom most films benefit by having her in support) who is wasted as the token, calm cop in charge of the investigation into Megan’s disappearance. ‘Calm’ to the point of being comatose, she seems completely uninterested in the case. After Megan’s body is discovered, you would think the drunken former neighbour who spontaneously turns on the night of her disappearance and has no recollection of that evening, would automatically become the main suspect. No, Janney takes Blunt into the loos, asks her what went on and then lets Blunt walk out in a huff without questioning her further.

Why there isn’t an abrupt cut here, before Blunt walks out, is a mystery but its further evidence of the sloppy work that has gone into creating these people. (I’m convinced that Janney doesn’t even work for the police, she’s just wafted in on an air of ill conceived mystery-making in the writer’s mind).

However, that the film (I haven’t read the book so can’t comment on that) works with flat stereotypes makes it even more impressive that the filmmakers have produced a permafrost-cold thriller that tantalisingly, even excitingly, manages to keep the who and why-dunnit balls in the air, as the narrative trundles through the country of the inebriated and unbalanced mind.

Trundles because, despite the commuter train of the title being a central plot device and Megan telling her shrink that a speeding train crashing is enough to tear the clothes from your body (clothes she toys and tugs at to seduce him but to no avail – he has a practice to consider, his professional gallantry infuriating her), Rachel’s dull daily commute always dawdles to its terminus.

Rather like Rachel herself, for whom going to work has become rather like the fantasy life she constructs for her neighbours. We learn she was fired a year prior to Megan’s death but keeps going into the office to keep up the pretence of normality for her housemate. And to keep drinking on the sly from her more-than-water bottle.

Rachel is sometimes photographed with one half of the screen left empty, visually telling us a chunk of her life is missing, or is due to be filled. Tellingly, during the final shot where there is plenty of space around her, she has still to achieve this.

Blunt, with nose and cheeks flushed red with drink, staggering, shaking and slurring in good measure, almost brings a tear to the eye as this most pathetic of pathetics. She complements the role as written by letting go and showing us the sweaty confusion and jigsaw puzzle of recall that follows heavy intoxication.

Despite the action being transplanted from London to the States, her English accent doesn’t seem out of place. It adds to her distinctiveness from the other, perfect women around her.

There is upright support all round from the most handsome of casts (beautiful people are not only deadly but terrifyingly neurotic).

It’s difficult to decide which one of the guys tops my ‘most gorgeous’ list, but Luke Evans’ admirable display of nudity just about nudges him up. Director Tate Taylor makes a gripping movie around them, but Blunt holds the main ground expertly, like a pro boozehound come closing time.

See the trailer on the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: Tate Taylor. 112mins. Amblin/Dreamworks SKG/Marc Platt/Reliance/Storyteller. (15).

Producers: Jared LeBoff, Marc Platt.
Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson.
Camera: Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
Music: Danny Elfman.
Sets: Kevin Thompson.

Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney, Darren Goldstein, Lisa Kudrow.

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