Monday, 17 October 2016

"I used to watch this perfect couple. They were the embodiment of true love."

Adapted from the runaway bestseller by Paula Hawkins, Tate Taylor's (The Help) film is a faithful take on this marital mystery tale. For the uninitiated, like Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000) before it, the tale centres on an unreliable memory addled narrator – only here it is alcoholism not a blow to the head that has left our lead in a foggy cloud of unknowing.

Emily Blunt (Sicario) plays Rachel Watson, an increasingly alcohol dependant New York commuter who rides the train to work every day, glancing wistfully at two houses on her journey. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his former mistress now wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby, the other to a couple she doesn't know – Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Hayley Bennett).

Fantasising about this mystery pair, Rachel also can't stop calling her ex – much to the chagrin of Anna. But everything changes the day Rachel glimpses Megan on her balcony kissing another man. Shortly afterwards, she disappears – the very same night Rachel is blind drunk. When she wakes up the next day, bloodied, bruised and unable to remember anything clearly, Rachel starts trying to piece together events.

Was she a witness to Megan's demise? Is she a possible suspect? Scripted by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary), The Girl On The Train struggles to find an elegant structure. True, Hawkins' book, written from the perspective of its three female characters and layered with flashbacks, is a difficult one to translate. The immediate casualty is Anna, leaving the dyed blonde Ferguson a virtual bystander.

More impressive, however, is Haley Bennett, who captures the restless spirit of the art gallery employee turned nanny Megan. While Justin Theroux (Inland Empire) is somewhat two dimensional as Tom, Luke Evans is credible as the frantic, temper frayed Scott. The support – Édgar Ramírez (The Bourne Ultimatum) as Megan's therapist and Allison Janney (Juno) as the lead detective – also offer some much needed texture.

While transposing proceedings from London to New York's outskirts doesn't jar as much as some readers feared, what does occasionally distract is Taylor's direction. The biggest sticking point? A key scene set in a tunnel, where repeated use of slow motion feels like an amateurish attempt to replicate the workings of a befuddled mind.

Fortunately, Blunt keeps the film anchored. Playing drunk convincingly is no mean feat, but she cracks it, maintaining our sympathy for a character who has gradually slipped towards becoming a functioning alcoholic. Looking blotchy and unsteady on her feet, she never plays it for laughs but with an air of unflinching honesty and desperation, as if solving this mystery may be her last chance.

While Taylor's film may not be bound for glory, Emily Blunt's harrowing performance ensures The Girl On The Train stays on track.

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