Sometimes, anticipation for a film can set expectations too high that anything less than 'brilliant' is firmly disappointing; on other occasions, poor reviews and buzz from critics can discourage your interest and send expectations crashing through the floor. I experienced both in the lead up to The Girl on The Train, the adaptation of Paula Hawkins' novel that shocked the world last year upon release. An influx of mixed to negative reviews in the lead up to the film's release certainly dampened by spirits, as it was indeed one of my most anticipated releases of the year - however, after catching the film, I am pleased to report that the film was a thrilling ride that only disappoints when compared with similar genre entries, instead of being judged as its free-standing self. Despite owning the book for about a year now, I purposely decided to avoid delving into it, so the film would shock and surprise at every turn. I'm rather glad I did, as this psychological thriller works all the better because of that decision.
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a divorced alcoholic, rides the train to work every day, thinking about the occupants of the houses she passes, fantasising about their perfect lives during her commute. When she sees something from the train window, and a missing persons case is launched, she becomes all too absorbed in their world, and as the mystery unfolds, begins to question her own involvement in the possible murder case. Blunt takes the lead role, along with features from Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Therouz, Luke Evans, Allison Jannery, Edgar Ramirez and Lisa Kudrow, all under Tate Taylor's direction.
Emily Blunt is the film's magnetic core, delivering a genuinely moving and constantly engaging performance of an unpredictable narrator; from one moment we go from sympathetically caring and worrying about her state of mind to detesting her and questioning her true motives and involvement - a real sign of the power of her performance as Rachel - as the audience ebb and flow between trusting and distrusting her. While convinced she will be overlooked, this is an award-winning performance, from her glossy eyes and woozy looks to visible, yet subtle shakes caused by her alcoholism, Blunt carries the film marvellously and continues her incredible character-driven and layered work from last year's Sicario. In fact, the cast as a whole is solid, and while almost always overshadowed by Blunt, all perform well in a piece where almost no one can be trusted. Particularly impressive is Bennett as Megan, whose performance makes the central mystery all the more absorbing and gripping.
Structurally, the film may be considered confusing, but works on a deeper level by reflecting the uneven mindset of Rachel; continually switching from the present to variously situated flashbacks, it slowly unfolds and delivers new information which ensures it remains continually taut and tense, highlighted by the genuinely shocking twists at every turn. Tate Taylor's direction is strong, including a number of instances in which the camera becomes oh so subtly shaky, cleverly used to indicate Rachel's alcoholism taking over her conscience. He also makes wonderful use of the unreliable nature of the film's protagonists and her condition, demonstrating wholly different versions of scenes that encourage audience's to question characters they think they understand, only to slow undo that as scenes intercut. Matched with some impressive cinematography, the film is drenched in a rather dull colour palette - blacks, greys and greens - manifesting into Rachel's own personal darkness which is both atmospheric and tonally gritty, suiting the thematic content of the film perfectly.
While managing to remain tense on the whole journey, the film very occasionally loses momentum, particularly at the beginning of the third act, where it appears to retread the same ground through different eyes which, under better control, would work better than it does. Without spoiling too much, a pivotal moment at the end of the first act becomes confusing as to who is where and what is happening, which is entirely down to the visual similarity of the two female supporting characters. It's not for a few minutes that this confusion is cleared up, losing a little investment and focus in the immediate scenes that follow it. Some minor characters need a little more fleshing, including one that simply appears towards the end to reveal something that allows the climax to take place. The majority of these are minor grumbles and can be overlooked as it is an otherwise solid, entertaining drama-thriller.
Upon the novel's release, The Girl on the Train was dubbed 'the next Gone Girl' - a film and novel I loved with all my heart, and perhaps the film suffers because of the comparison to what I see as the pinnacle of the psychological thriller. Having such a critically acclaimed 'stablemate' seems to affect everyone's judgement of the individual product, with the most vehement seemingly coming from lovers of the source material, meaning I feel encouraged that I elected to watch it before I read it. Even with its flaws, The Girl on The Train remains a thoroughly engaging, well-acted and tense film that is superior still if you judge the final product on its own, free from comparisons. It may be a little bumpy in places but for the majority, the ride is one you need a ticket for. I do hope that future viewing treats it kinder than its harshest critics.
Summary: The Girl on The Train's journey is thrilling, captivating and continually suspenseful, with a sensational and complex performance from Emily Blunt. The next best 'adult thriller' is rolling into cinemas now and Blunt's performance, and the central mystery, are worth the ticket alone.
Highlight: Emily Blunt's performance is the central core of this film and I do hope the awards are kind to her as its one of the strongest of the year as we head into Oscar territory.