‘The Girl on the Train’ review: Muddled mystery slowly becomes clear

Emily Blunt stars as Rachel in 'The Girl on the Train.'. Universal Pictures

It’s never an easy task to transition a story from book to screen, and The Girl on the Train is the latest example of that challenge.

With time jumps aplenty and many members of the main cast who resemble one another (that’s most likely the point, but still), you almost resign yourself to wait and see what happens instead of trying to figure out the mystery. Nearly impossible to decipher if you haven’t read the book, the beginning is more of a mish-mash of events than a coherent timeline.

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Emily Blunt leads the movie as Rachel, a woman who rides the Metro North train from New Jersey to New York City, looking into houses along the tracks. She fixates on one specific couple (who always seem to be visibly having sex or passionately embracing), watching them each time the train passes their home. She’s also an alcoholic and recently divorced from her husband (Justin Theroux), who cheated on her.

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The story has a lot going for it despite its confusing beginnings. The twist, which occurs suddenly toward the film’s last quarter, isn’t obvious and won’t be clear to even the greatest movie sleuths. But there’s a payment for getting there, and that’s watching Blunt’s drunken character stumble through foggy memory after foggy memory until the realizations hit.

It sounds confusing. Will I be able to follow?

Yes. Hollywood knows that it needs to spell things out. That’s why, in movies, folders are labelled “Top Secret” and passwords are made completely visible, so us dumb viewers can understand what’s going on. There is a lot of repetition in The Girl on the Train, just in case some people haven’t put two and two together.

I’ve read the book. Am I going to be disappointed with the movie version?

Full disclosure: This reporter hasn’t read the book, so I can’t be 100 per cent sure what will happen, but a colleague said that the book had a much more “British” feel to it, and by bringing the movie into an American setting, it just feels like another rendition of Gone Girl. The movie is filled with beautiful people sometimes having sex, so there’s always that salve.

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I’ve heard Emily Blunt really carries this film.

She is definitely the focal point, and the majority of camera time is hers. It’s not that Blunt isn’t good, it’s more that she’s constrained by a story that can only tell so much. It’s clear that she embraced her role and went after it with gusto, but the watery-eyed staggering eventually becomes the viewer’s slog, too.

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What about the supporting cast?

Featuring two or three relatively unknown actors — a smart approach in a mystery movie — they hold their own. They’re attractive, sexy, and intriguing enough to make the crazed story of lust and betrayal believable. There’s a little cameo by former Friends star Lisa Kudrow, who pops in and out of a couple scenes; that’s a nice treat, and it allows for a game of Six Degrees of Jennifer Aniston (Theroux is the husband, remember).

So, what’s the bottom line?

The Girl on the Train is most definitely a mystery. It’s not the kind of story that you figure out right away, so there’s a pleasurable nagging until you figure it all out. If you can navigate the plodding first half you’ll get your reward.

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