By Richard von Busack
Appealing to fans of trains, girls and girls who drink on trains, Tate (The Help) Taylor’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train transplants the action from England to New York. As per Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, the plot arrives with twists, withheld info, three different narrators and flashbacks. Parsing it is like trying to comb out boiled pasta.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is the kind of alkie who pours a fifth of raw vodka into her water bottle so she can drink during her rail commute to New York City. She’s captivated by one particular house on her route: A lux two-story place with a Hudson River view, where a handsome couple cavorts like the models on the cover of the J. Crew catalogue.
One day Rachel sees the lady of the house, Megan (Haley Bennett), in the arms of another man; this leads Rachel to try to warn the husband (Luke Evans). Turns out that Rachel is already connected with Megan, unbeknownst to her: Megan is nannying at Rachel’s former house, tending the baby of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). When Megan the nanny turns up murdered, it’s possible that Rachel could have killed the cheating woman during an alcoholic fugue.
There are some actresses who have the spark of self-destruction in them. The perfectly chiseled and sensible Blunt isn’t one of them, even though she’s filmed in tight closeups without makeup. (It might have been on-the-nose casting, but Rachel could have been Amy Schumer’s first dramatic part.) Director Taylor’s visuals have a muted luridness; the talented cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen uses a palette of granite greys and aquas, so that nothing looks too pretty, even Central Park.
At its smartest, the movie cracks down on the idea that only moving to the suburbs and having a baby will calm a woman down. It’s hard to believe the coincidences here … but as in all melodrama, there is a sense of emotional truth and fears that are credible, even when the plot is incredible.