Tuesday 6 December 2016

Revered tale just about stays on track

Emily Blunt is cast against type in this stylish and entertaining melodrama, says Paul Whitington

Published 08/10/2016 | 02:30

Pressure: Emily Blunt takes on Paula Hawkins’ Rachel in the film adaptation of ‘Girl on the Train’
Pressure: Emily Blunt takes on Paula Hawkins’ Rachel in the film adaptation of ‘Girl on the Train’

At the very least, the makers of this splendidly melodramatic thriller should be congratulated for the speed with which they've got it to the screen. The bestseller on which it's based only came out in January 2015, but Dreamworks and producer Marc Platt have positively shot this adaptation out to capitalise on its success. Paula Hawkins' ingenious novel told the story of an unhappy drunk who rides the train in and out of London and gazes enviously out the window at the dream home she used to share with her husband, who's married again and is living the dream. Tate Taylor's The Girl on the Train shifts the story to Manhattan, and casts Emily Blunt as the thoroughly miserable Rachel - controversially, as it turns out.

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In the book Rachel was slovenly, and overweight, not in the same league as her svelte and gorgeous rival. And while Ms Blunt has been dowdied down as much as possible here, with rheumy eyes and a runny nose and hair in need of washing, she's still a slender and very handsome woman whose existential angst is undermined slightly by her beauty.

Some of the book's fans are up in arms about her casting, but she does pretty well in a role that involves lots of impassivity and nose-blowing.

We first meet Rachel on a suburban train hurtling towards Manhattan. As it passes a row of opulent houses, she stares keenly out the window at her former home, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) now lives with his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby girl. All salt in the wounds for Rachel, especially as Tom began his affair with Anna while still married to her. To escape the unspeakable agony of all this, Rachel fantasises about a handsome young couple who've moved in two doors up from Tom and Anna, and seem enormously happy.

Practically every time the train passes they seem to be having sex in some part of the house or other, and Rachel decides that theirs is the perfect relationship she's always dreamed of. She's horrified, therefore, when she passes one day and sees the young woman kissing someone other than her partner. Outraged, and pretty drunk, Rachel gets off the train to investigate: not such a good idea, as it turns out.

When the woman, who's called Megan (Haley Bennett), then goes missing, Rachel struggles to account for her whereabouts and soon becomes the chief suspect of a commendably nosy detective (Allison Janney). She even begins to wonder if she's guilty herself, and the worst thing of all is that she has only the haziest memories of the night Megan went missing.

This kind of amnesia thriller would be familiar territory to Mr Alfred Hitchcock, and while Tate Taylor's film does not reach similar heights of visual flair and invention, it's a very competent melodrama enlivened by numerous twists and some pretty strong performances.

Emily Blunt gives her all in the kind of role she's unaccustomed to, blundering through the ruins of Rachel's life and feeling like the only character who isn't in on the joke. She doesn't just drink either, she swigs neat vodka from a sippy cup first thing every morning, and tops it up with beer and wine as another long and hopeless day progresses. She's a pitiful creature, though maybe not quite so pitiful as her author intended her to be, full of self-pity and self-loathing.

Haley Bennett is very convincing as Megan, a lonely woman with a dark past who's not at all as perfect as she appears. And Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson is wonderful as Anna, Tom's new woman who's terrified of Rachel's instability but has no idea what's really going on.

There are plot problems of course, for instance those houses, their extreme proximity to the tracks, and the amount Rachel manages to take in while her train hurtles by at a hundred miles an hour.

Things get pretty hammy towards the end, too, but perhaps that's to be expected in this kind of movie, which reminded me a bit of 'Gone Girl' but also of enjoyably silly 80s thrillers like 'Fatal Attraction'.

Films coming soon...

Inferno (Tom Hanks, Ben Foster, Felicity Jones); I, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, Hayley Squires); American Honey (Sasha Lane, Shia LaBoeuf, Riley Keough); Storks (Andy Samberg, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston); The Flag (Pat Shortt, Ruth Bradley).

The Girl on the Train

(15A, 109mins) HHHHH

Irish Independent

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