Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Justin Theroux
Released 5th October 2016
When a bestselling book is turned into a film, sometimes it’s best not to have read it. Especially one that twists and turns like Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train, a book that veritably catapulted off the bookshelves last year onto the big screen.
Regardless of whether you’ve read the book or not, I’ll keep this spoiler free. This is an intricate jigsaw of a film, one that you have to think through for yourself and fit all those little pieces together. And even though the picture starts to become clear after a while, the final pieces still manage to hold some surprises, if not actual shocks.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) takes the train in and out of New York every single day and has become fascinated by one particular house that she sees on her route. Not just the house, but its occupants, a couple who don’t hold back on their public displays of affection, even though there’s a train line at the end of the garden. But one day she sees something which tells her that the couple’s relationship isn’t as idyllic as it seems. And, even though she doesn’t know them, she’s compelled to get involved. What she doesn’t realise is the effect it will have on her life and theirs.
There’s a second house that comes into play as well. It’s a couple of doors down and used to be hers, so her fascination is understandable. Her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) lives there with his second wife, Emma (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby. Another seemingly perfect married couple, just like their neighbours, and the complete opposite to what we’re shown through Rachel’s memories. She’s an alcoholic, partly as a result of her inability to have a baby with her husband, and the combination of the two destroyed their marriage.
The film moves back and forth in time, giving us the relevant timings in captions, and you do need to concentrate to keep up with it. Not that it’s any hardship, because you soon become engrossed in the story and trying to work out the truth of not just Rachel’s situation, but everybody else’s as well. And always in the background is the sound – and often image – of the train, going back and forth as well. It all adds to that sense of gradually putting the story together piece by individual piece, whether it comes from now, from the past of from somebody else’s perspective.
The story is driven by three women, all different characters, all damaged in their different ways yet all linked at the same time. Number three is Megan (Haley Bennett), one half of the neighbours who live a couple of doors away from her ex and whose relationship fascinates Rachel. Tate Taylor is a director used to making films with a group of women at the centre – think The Help – so it’s no surprise that the main cop is a woman as well, this time played by the constantly under-rated Allison Janney. Her face has cynicism and disbelief written all over it. Not a cop you’d want to get on the wrong side of.
Blunt is especially good as Rachel, looking terrible when she’s had a drink or two – sipper bottles, apparently filled with water, will never look the same again! – and so unkempt that her lips are in desperate need of some balm. It’s amazing that anybody would want to go near her in that state but one passenger, a man from the train, does try to help her at one point. He gets exceedingly short shrift but, because he seems a decent person, you wonder for a moment about his back story. But only for a moment, because there’s too much in the main narrative for you to be distracted for long.
Alongside the performances, there’s some good photography, especially the hand-held work concentrating on Rachel at her worst, as well as double images of her as seen through the train window. As for the story, well, you’re guessing right to the very end – and beyond, because there are scenes that you can interpret in more than one way. You’re not told if there’s a right or wrong way, you just have to make up your mind.
Just go and see it. You’ll think, you’ll puzzle, you’ll wince and you’ll find that, as the climax approaches, your shoulders are hunched up just below your ears. The hallmark of a good, psychological thriller.
The Girl On The Train is released in cinemas on Wednesday, 5 October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 6 October.