Whenever a film does exceptionally well critically and/or commercially, there’s an inevitable rush to proclaim a future film “The Next ____________.” With its literary roots, mysterious plot and focus on women, The Girl on the Train has found itself positioned as “The Next Gone Girl,” a daunting proposition. To its credit, The Girl on the Train has some strong elements of its own, including a fiercely committed performance from Emily Blunt that may be among her best work ever (which is saying something). But to be clear, The Girl on the Train is no Gone Girl.
Rachel (Blunt), a barely-functioning alcoholic, rides the train every day, twice a day, and on her way, she watches two homes: the one she once shared with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), where he now lives with new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and another one a few doors down where the seemingly perfect Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) live. One day, though, Rachel witnesses something from the train, and the next day, Megan is missing and presumed dead.
The film’s largest problem is one that’s carried over from the book: its structure. In the book, the narrative shifts between each of the three main women, and that’s carried over here. The problem with that is that the shifts back to the present are sudden, and it takes a moment to realize when events are occurring. The frequency of them doesn’t help matters either. While the narrative is slightly streamlined to fit a two-hour timeframe, it’s still a complicated one, and it can be hard to follow.
If there’s any saving grace to the film, it’s the inclusion of Emily Blunt as Rachel. Because Rachel is an alcoholic who’s still drinking, it’s clear fairly quickly that she’s an unreliable narrator. She has her definite flaws, and while Blunt can be likable, she makes it clear that Rachel is a mess, and it’s not unreasonable to see why others don’t want to be around her. As she struggles to find out what happened with Megan, her own faulty memory makes each guess questionable, and Blunt effectively sells this in ways that are surprising and unbelievable.
It’s a relief, because the rest of the cast isn’t given a lot to work with here. Rachel has some complexity, but every other character is mostly, if not wholly, flat. It’s frustrating, because while Tate Taylor hasn’t assembled the greatest filmography, his work has shown that he can bring talented actors together and give them some room to give good-to-great performances. But Blunt’s performance is enough to make the film watchable on its own, which is no small feat. While it’s by no means the “next Gone Girl” after all, there’s a decent amount of suspense that, when combined with Blunt, makes The Girl on the Train worth viewing.