Can an alcoholic uncover the mystery behind a stranger’s disappearance?
Alcoholism is an ugly disease that destroys the lives not only those who drink, but also of everyone around them. Personal connections are broken, and those who suffer rarely recover. This is the underlying theme in the novel, The Girl on The Train. The novel has a structure similar to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, in which the story of a woman’s disappearance is told by multiple narrators. And much like Flynn, Train’s author, Paula Hawkins did a fantastic job of keeping the audience out of the loop, so that the end result is jaw-dropping, to say the least. Now, this novel has been adapted to a motion picture, under the direction of Tate Taylor with a script by Erin Cressida Wilson.
The story mainly follows a woman named Rachel, who became a sickly alcoholic following a divorce from her husband Tom, who is now married to Anna, the woman he cheated on Rachel with. Tom and Anna are not only married, but they have a child, which enrages Rachel since she couldn’t conceive when she was with Tom.
Rachel’s life at home is a depressing one. She drinks to the point where she experiences blackouts and has developed a fractured memory. Drunk, she leaves Tom and Anna angry voice messages, and even, briefly, abducted their child from their home. Obviously, everyone finds her dangerous and threatening, especially when they spot her vodka-filled water bottle. Even though she is fired from her job due to her excessive drinking, she routinely rides the train from Westchester to Manhattan and back every day, fantasizing about a happily married couple, Megan and Scott, whom she sees every time her train passes their house.
On one particular day, she sees Megan in a loving position with another man, and cannot get it off her mind. One night, she gets off the train when she sees Megan and follows her to get some answers. Some time later, she wakes up with a bruise and doesn’t remember what happened, but learns that Megan went missing. Rachel now becomes obsessed with the mystery behind Megan’s disappearance, going as far as she can to uncover the truth.
Not only did the filmmakers make a solid thrilling adaptation of the book, but they have also produced probably one of the best films of the year. Taylor has proven with his previous films, The Help and Get on Up, that he has a knack for handling scenarios based in real time. Even though Train is a fictional story, Taylor’s intimate direction presents the story authentically, from the police questioning the recollections of Rachel, to Rachel’s own struggle with getting at the truth.
While the novel is set in London, the film is set in New York. This change works in the film’s favor, though, because Taylor and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen photograph the film with careful detail. The first 30 pages of the novel has Rachel describing the houses she passes while on the train, including the people she fantasizes about, and these descriptions are captured on the screen. The way that the story is filmed allows the audience to be observers to this mystery, just as Rachel was. Taylor also incorporates slow motion, flashes, and other camera tricks to emulate Rachel’s drunken perspective.
Emily Blunt’s performance as Rachel is something worth mentioning. This is, perhaps, one of the most authentic portrayals of an alcoholic that we have seen in a major motion picture, and not once does Blunt break from her character. You can feel the desperation and suffering that her character goes through in every scene, especially when she is having trouble putting the pieces of the mystery together. Many depictions of alcoholics in the past would have moments that seem almost a bit comical, but nowhere is that found in Blunt’s performance, which is raw, ugly, and fitting to a story of this caliber, not to mention worthy of another Oscar nomination.
The supporting cast members are also on their “A” game, particularly Haley Bennett as Megan. Her character becomes increasingly complex the more we learn about her over the course of the film’s runtime, and Bennett expresses the vulnerability of her character very well. With more performances like this, she could have a very promising career. Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, and Allison Janney are included in the supporting cast and do equally powerful work with their respective characters. They are helped even further by Wilson’s screenplay, which does a spectacular job of depicting the struggles and changes that the characters go through.
The Girl on the Train is thriller filmmaking at it’s finest, and the story being told from the point of view of an alcoholic, whom you cannot depend on for clarity, succeeds in keeping the audience interested in finding out what really happened. And if Gone Girl was the film that got modern audiences interested in thrillers again, then The Girl on the Train will cement that interest.
The film hits theaters this Friday.