Rachel (Emily Blunt) has an overactive imagination, living vicariously in her mind through the fantasy lives of strangers that she sees from her daily train commute. In particular, she is fascinated by a couple whose true lives are far less glamorous than the sex appeal that is seen as a blip on the passing train.
The Girl on the Train is a mystery of sorts, but it is more akin to a psychodrama than anything else. The narrative is motivated by shattered psyches and deceit. The mystery is framed by this fracturing, the subjectivity of the viewpoints we are given a concealment device, one that works to fairly good effect.
The film is framed by closeups and extreme closeups. This tight framing goes hand-in-hand with the limiting subjectivity of the narrative. It is also a claustrophobic element. The train is a tight setting made more narrow by shots of isolation. Rachel’s entire existence, though, is strangling and dizzying. This all yields a shot structure that is highly effective in creating a visual tone.
An ensemble cast of seven do a fantastic job fueling the psychodramatic tension. Blunt’s portrayal of a woman in nightmarish delirium is gripping. Haley Bennett’s stony presence is also good for the role in question, particularly when that stony face presents cracks. Allison Janney’s deliberate, cruel detective is even fun to watch in spite of the character’s lack of dimensionality. All the characters, in fact, lack dimension. However, the performances help ease this problem.
The film does fall short on multiple occasions. Certain reveals are given away far too early by weak red herrings and dialogue cues. As a mystery, then, the film is not quite up to snuff, but the psychological thriller elements are strong enough. Those looking for a straight mystery will find this thin construction disappointing, but otherwise the narrative remains compelling.
The Girl on the Train, when all is said and done, is a mystery thriller that lacks nuance, but it satisfies in other ways. A stellar cast, adequate pacing, and a strong sense of visual direction keeps the movie from becoming second rate, even when poor scripting and narrative development become increasingly problematic.
The Girl on the Train: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)