The Girl on the Train review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The Girl on the Train is the type of mystery that asks, nay, begs you to overlook its own character flaws in favor of its twisty plot. It’s a picture based on a popular book that I have not read, but, based on this movie, my impression is that it was a thick paperback sold at airport bookstores. Readers were most likely so engrossed by this mystery of who killed who, who was cheating on who and who is pregnant with what person’s child; so engrossed they forgot to ask if they should care about the people the story follows. But, for all I know, this is just a horrible adaptation.
I suppose we’re supposed to care about Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), an unemployed, recently divorced drunk that spends her days drinking on a train and envying the lives of others. Nothing particularly interesting is happening in her life which leads her to taking an interest in stranger Megan (Haley Bennett). But Megan is no stranger as she’s the nanny and neighbor of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux). On one fateful day of spying on Megan, Rachel discovers that this woman is cheating on her husband and decides to run up to her and call her a whore. Again, nothing else going on in her life. She blacks out after the incident in her apartment with her head and shirt bloodied. And now Megan is dead. Could Rachel have killed someone in her drunken haze of spying on other people?
There’s a whole mess of clues and suspects she has to sift that I’m surprised a drunk could wade through, even when she starts sobering up. Megan had an abusive husband and cheated on him with a therapist. Tom’s current wife had a bit of a tiff with Megan because of how much she hates their baby. Megan doesn’t want another child, but is discovered pregnant when her body turns up. And was Tom cheating on his current wife with another woman?
This is all rather stirring, but consider the characters at play in this mystery. All the female characters are downers that spend all their free time drinking wine, spying on others or having meaningless, emotionless sex. Megan spends most of the movie appearing more as a character from Sin City than a New York suburb, calling herself a whore and talking an awful lot about sex she hates. All of the men in their lives are mean, abusive, cheating and mentally destructive. They’re much more suited to Sin City as well.
In an attempt to awaken the movie from its soap opera plot and pacing, the third act turns bloody. Characters are mercilessly beaten to a disturbing degree where this may as well just have been a horror picture. The movie even slips out who the true killer is in the second act by process of elimination, leaving me waiting for the eventual wheels to turn. And once they turn, they’re gunked up with blood. The true killer in this movie has such a lacking motivation that it makes me pine for those trashy BBC mysteries where the killer always wants a deed or to stop a business deal. The killer’s motive in this movie? Just being a terrible person, which isn’t a spoiler since nobody in this picture is likable.
I think what I despised most about The Girl on the Train was how it attempts to rationalize Rachel’s behavior. She wasn’t breaking and entering into Tom’s home to pick up his baby because as she puts it “the door was open” and “I just wanted to hold the baby.” She’s not a bad character who has to change because of one of the worst surprise twists that absolves her of developing herself into a better person. She doesn’t have time to fix herself when there’s a murder she can solve. Maybe she figures her drunken nature is the key to discovering and solving mysteries, which is very likely considering she is back on the train by the end of the movie. Only this time she sits on the opposite side where she can’t see suburban homes. Baby steps, I suppose.