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Just tell me what happened that night!

The Girl on the Train
(2016)

(SPOILERS) It’s never entirely clear why Hollywood studios assume defenestrating a novel’s defining aspects will lead its devoted readers to flock to the movie version. I mean, relocating a novel set singularly in London to New York is tantamount to casting a Yank as Bridget Jones. Or a dwarf as a Jack Reacher. Judging by the movie of The Girl on the Train, though, which doesn’t make me want to rush out and read Paula Hawkins’ book, upping its styx (while retaining the alchy English heroine) is the least of its problems. Indeed, I was kind of, almost, on board with the whole thing before it decided that what it actually was was a stand issue, abusive partner, Sleeping with the Enemy-type affair.


Because, while reveals are quite obviously a fundamental ingredient of a good murder mystery, having those reveals negate the only distinctive aspect of the subject matter cannot be a good thing. About the only arresting aspect of the back half of The Girl on the Train, in which Emily Blunt’s permanently inebriated Rachel Watson takes on the aspect of Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple, only more youthful, wearing the same clothes for a month and smelling of wee, as she sniffs out the murderer of the next door neighbour to the house she formerly occupied (still resident are her ex Justin Theroux and his new wife Rebecca Ferguson, plus mewling bairn), is the confrontation with the revealed-as-the-guilty-party Theroux.


It’s a process of disappointingly rudimentary elimination to divine who actually dunnit after Luke Evans (husband of the murdered Haley Bennet, who is luckily much more effective here than she was in The Magnificent Seven a few weeks back) is shown to have an alibi, and Edgar Ramirez, the studly beardy shrink is revealed not to be the father of the pregnant victim’s unborn. Unless Bennet had been having an affair with Allison Janney’s detective sergeant, or Lisa Kudrow’s mostly unconnected ex-boss of Theroux, there weren’t really any other characters to choose from. Possibly Darren Goldstein’s ‘Man in the Suit’ but that would be like having the killer in Sea of Love revealed as someone you saw in a couple of scenes way back in the first act.


But, while Theroux, who has been giving his all in a sterling performance in The Leftovers over the past couple of years, is called upon to deliver the standard Cliff Notes psycho when he is “unmasked” (via some astonishing total recall on Rachel’s part; who knew drunken blackouts gradually crystallise in the mind over time, such that all becomes clear?), his demise, first via a corkscrew in the neck from Rachel, and then, in a quite inspired turn of matrimonial venom, from wife Anna screwing it in further to make sure he really is dead, almost justifies the sloppiness of the mystery elsewhere.


Tate Taylor (previously of The Help) is on much firmer ground with the dissociative episodes besieging Rachel during the first half of the movie than the thriller mechanics of the second (such that he fatally misjudges would-be disturbing scenes such as Theroux getting out a really big rock to brain Bennett with, which in long shot looks like nothing so much a homage to a Looney Tunes cartoon).


The Girl on the Train is almost daringly original when it sets itself up as a movie about an alcoholic no-life entirely responsible for the disintegration of her marriage (rather than being recast as a victim when clarity returns), and who is somehow stumbling in hit-and-miss fashion on the trail of a murderer, inappropriately inveigling herself with the widow and seeking out the shrink while remaining on Janney’s suspect list (however superficially with regard to the latter; Janney’s detective is someone you wouldn’t really want investigating a petty theft, let alone the death of someone important).


And Blunt, while she is generally far too spruce to suggest someone stinking of urine and turps, does a really very good, cringe-making drunk turn, one where every misstep and blunder is painfully feasible. Taylor’s use of point of view and subjective lens are highly effective during these scenes, from the unreliable witness that is Rachel to the reactions of those around on realising her state (the mother with baby on the train, who is no longer quite so amenable when she realises Blunt is blotto; Goldstein’s good Samaritan, who gets a load of grief for his troubles).


Evans, Theroux and Ramirez are serviceable if unremarkable, but Bennett and Ferguson make stronger impressions, attempting to elevate rather ho-hum material that seems to have underlying seriousness aspirations before cutting loose into full-on pulp. Someone I saw this with fell asleep halfway through, a sign The Girl on the Train isn’t exactly riveting, but the first half, as Blunt stumbles through a vodka-tinted phantasmagoria of uncertain sights and suspect theories, is far superior to what follows.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

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