The whodunit is something of a Hollywood staple, something you can release pretty much anytime of year. They make good movie filler outside of the peak summer and holiday movie seasons. Case in point is Girl on the Train, now in theaters and starring Emily Blunt. Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a woman who lives her life in a deeply alcoholic haze. Rachel’s addiction is key to this whodunit because she becomes an unreliable narrator, making it a challenge for the viewer to parse through all the information presented and discern the truth.
One thing that is clear is that Rachel is wholly messed up. She commutes to and from New York on the train. Twice a day the train slowly passes a street where she used to live. She is glued to the window as the train slowly passes her old street. She becomes obsessed with a couple she sees in a house along the tracks and what she sees as their ideal loving relationship on display to passers by. This idealized relationship may be more of a draw than the bottle of spirits she discreetly sips from on the train. It was apparently a life she thought she had before her divorce broke her. She now awkwardly slums with her friend Cathy (Laura Prepon, who plays Alex Vause in Netflix’s series Orange is the New Black) while making a wreck of her post-divorce life.
Rachel is certainly haunted by the breakup of her marriage but also by her inability to have a child that Tom Watson (Justin Theroux) desperately wanted. Her inability to conceive led to the breakup of her marriage to Tom who started hitting on their realtor Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) instead. Rachel can’t seem to help herself and stalks her old neighborhood and her old house, pining for Anna’s new baby with Tom and the life she used to have. The couple two doors down the street seem to have that perfect marriage that because it eluded her now intrigues her. However, one afternoon from her window on the train she observes the woman in the arms of another man. This woman, Megan, inconveniently goes missing one evening after Rachel exits from the train. She sees her and her husband Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) in a tunnel. Megan is eventually found dead in the woods nearby.
Rachel seems pivotal to solving the unfolding mystery. Since she is angry with Megan for her observed infidelity, her being near the scene of the crime and an injury that happened in her deeply intoxicated state, she is under suspicion for the homicide. Even Rachel doesn’t know if she might be the murderer.
Based on the debut book last year by Paula Hawkins, the movie will keep you guessing. Figuring it out when a character is an unreliable narrator is challenging, but made more so by the way director Tate Taylor chooses to move back and forth in time. The movie is sad but compelling. Blunt’s portrayal of a deeply depressed and intoxicated woman is first rate and heartbreaking. Taylor takes us deeply into their intimate worlds, and does this with Steadicams and very intimate close up shots. The dark late autumn days in upstate New York also contribute to the movie’s pervasive gloom.
Still the movie will keep you engaged. You will have your hands full trying to piece together what’s actually going on, so in this sense it’s a very good whodunit. Rest assured that Rachel is not the only person with issues. Pretty much everyone in this story has issues and they are coping badly with them, making the surreal Stepford village Rachel inhabits more human as the movie progresses. Allison Janney has a nice minor part as Detective Riley, who gets to try to figure out who is responsible for Anna’s death. She will have her hands full.
So Girl on the Train is an intriguing filler movie while you wait for Hollywood’s more substantial offerings starting next month. Warning: there is a grisly ending scene that can be hard to stomach.
3.2 out of 4-stars.