'The Girl on the Train' review: Blunt keeps this lazy mystery from flying off the tracks
Emily Blunt's performance is the only notable highlight of the alleged mystery-thriller "The Girl on the Train." Very little else about this anticipated adaptation of the bestselling novel is memorable or intriguing.
In short: Self-destructive divorcée Rachel Watson (Blunt) spends her time riding the commuter train, stalking her ex-husband and his new wife (Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson) and obsessing over her former neighbor's - Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) - perceived perfect marriage. But Rachel finds herself swept into the investigation of Megan's sudden disappearance -- and Rachel may be the last person to see Megan alive. Luke Evans and Edgar Ramírez also star.
Any initial comparisons to "Gone Girl" are completely overblown. At no point does "Girl on the Train" completely demand the audience's attention. Instead, the movie teases the audience and drags out a rather dull mystery.
The core frustration of "Girl on the Train" is its execution of the "unreliable narrator" storytelling convention, which can be used to increase tension - examples: "American Psycho," "Memento" or "Fight Club" - when used with precision. The best executions of the "unreliable narrator" force the character and the audience to question everything they have seen -- because the storyteller, for some reason, is missing critical details.
"Girl on the Train" goes to great lengths to establish Rachel as an unreliable narrator. She is a blackout alcoholic who spends much of the first act glassy-eyed and completely drunk. She regularly loses track of long stretches of time because she chugs alcohol from a water bottle all day long. So of course Rachel is blackout drunk the night Megan disappears.
If "Girl on the Train" had remained focused on Rachel trying to piece together Megan's disappearance, then the story could have worked. Instead, much of the film is spent on events only tangentially related to the missing woman. There's an extensive "what drove Rachel to start drinking" tangent that's followed by a "how her drinking destroyed her marriage" bit. None of that is particularly important to Megan's disappearance - it only takes the scenic route in establishing that Rachel has a problem remembering things when she's drunk ... something that could have been established in a few short scenes.
The film goes the extra mile to establish Rachel's alcoholism and her violent outbursts. All of this is inelegantly blown up with a third act "shocking reveal" that's supposed to throw Rachel for a loop and make her reassess all over her alcohol-related memories. The problem: this earth-shattering "reveal" takes the form of a single conversation with a very minor character (who only shows up a couple of times). Just when Rachel is heading into the final climactic scenes, she happens to run into a very minor character who just happens to tell her the exact thing Rachel needs to hear to unlock the mystery of her memories.
"Girl on the Train" is mostly about Rachel's spotty memories - a problem that she has lived with for years and a problem that is largely fixed by a short chat with a minor character. Meanwhile, Rachel's third act revelation forces a supporting character to act in manner that is 100 percent counter to anything previously established in the film.
The majority of this review has been spent on Rachel because the other five major characters don't really merit discussion. They are a cast of flat characters, none of whom serve as a dramatic antagonist to Rachel. They are pawns in a lazy mystery, rife with red herrings and silly attempts at misdirection.
Rachel is the only the only interesting aspect of "Girl on the Train" - and that's absolutely due to Emily Blunt's strong performance. Blunt conveys just how lost and desperate Rachel has become since her divorce. She deserves all the credit for anything good about this movie.
"The Girl on the Train" is not an outright bad movie -- it just mismanages, poorly executes and ultimately wastes an intriguing premise with some lame mystery reveals. It's a "thriller" without any thrills - even the ultimate climax is a bit underwhelming.
Final verdict: Blunt's performance is better than the rest of "Girl on the Train."
"The Girl on the Train" opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 10. This mystery-thriller has a running time of 112 minutes and is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity.