Commuter blues

Domestic drama wrapped up in murder mystery: The Girl on the Train

Trish Lee


Trish Lee

The girl on the train

The Girl on The Train (15)
Running time1hr 52mins

THE Girl on the Train is troublesome in two ways; it doesn’t like men and it doesn’t think much of women either. One of last year’s best-selling novels, The Girl on the Train has been turned into a Hollywood money-spinner by director Tate Taylor, the man behind Oscar-winning civil rights drama The Help. As a thriller, it’s serviceable and sells itself – like many others in the genre – on its veil of mystery and a double-stranded twist, revealed at the film’s climax. It’s a whodunnit with added unreliability.

Englishwoman in New York Rachel (Emily Blunt) takes the commuter train every day. As she sips from a water-bottle filled with vodka, she peers out of the window and loses herself in hazy thought.
This is a woman with problems, fixated on the lives of the beautiful couple she sees every day as the train passes by. They’re symbolic of a perfect love to her – intensified because the house neighbours the des-res of ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), which he used to share with Rachel but now lives in with new wife and mother of his child, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).

When the beautiful female neighbour, Megan (Haley Bennett), vanishes, Rachel is drawn in. Her sketchy, booze-soaked memories make it difficult for her to piece together events but she nevertheless becomes obsessed with finding out what happened – and in the process some shocking secrets are revealed. 

Labelled by some an empowering post-feminist triumph, it’s far from it. But while it treats the female
characters abhorrently, pigeonholing them and punishing them repeatedly, it also shows the male characters in a brutal and reductive light. The three women characters all battle to break free of stereotypes. They’re all burdened with situations and concerns that are typically attributed to women.
Rachel was, in her past, preoccupied with having a baby and becomes so troubled by an inability to conceive that she starts to unravel.

The new wife Anna, meanwhile, fulfils the ‘other woman’ role – she’s the mistress pitted against the first wife and the one held responsible for the husband’s infidelity. She’s presented as difficult to like, not only the typical ‘younger model’ but also demanding, rich and spoiled. The third is the Freudian ‘whore’, presented by the film as the foxy femme fatale. She turns out to be arguably the most complex of the trio – and this is part of the film’s attempts to show, not entirely successfully, that there’s always more beneath the surface.

Of the men, the therapist character (Edgar Ramírez), pulled into the whole murky affair, perhaps fares best, although he’s demoted to ‘typical’ male in the difficulty he encounters attempting to shun the advances of his sexy patient. There’s also Scott (Luke Evans), the über-masculine, possessive
partner with anger issues – and the archetypal cheating husband, of course. Though the film seems to want to look beyond gender stereotypes, setting them up in order to tear them down, characters never break free of the limits placed on them and therefore remain defined by them.

While the men are all characterised by their attitudes towards women, dominance and sex, motivated by desire and struggling to tether sexual impulses, women are defined by mothering instincts, submission and sex appeal, or lack of. Although the film’s main twist feels clearly signposted from the outset, the device of using Rachel’s alcoholism to throw doubt on events and obscure the truth is an effective one, encouraging us to question everything and making Rachel refreshingly infuriating and

Blunt is great in this tragic role and deserves singling out, while the marvellous Allison Janney adds depth, even if she doesn’t really getto dig her nails in. A domestic drama wrapped in a murder mystery, this occasionally tense thriller gives you plenty to ponder, even if it does the opposite of what it sets out to do, and even if it does descend into TV movie melodrama territory via overblown 90s-style thriller by its close.

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