A title card reading "spoiler alert" at an early juncture of The Girl on the Train would be appreciated. Director Tate Taylor doesn't recognize when trope trumps mystery and the seeing aspect of cinema shows too much.
It's the one personal connection revealed among a basket of undesirable characters that draws a straight line to guilt, as movies and Nancy Grace taught us. We notice several of those characters vaguely resemble each other, framed by Taylor in circumstantial confirmations of a hunch later proven correct.
There's still 90 minutes of movie to go.
Having never read Paula Hawkins' bestseller, I held out hope for a third act surprise, some zag for a plot that's only zigging. No dice, no differently from the author's idea. Just a school of red herrings the size of dolphins and an Emily Blunt performance this story doesn't deserve.
Blunt plays Rachel Watson, bedraggled and drunk, just a boiled bunny shy of Fatal Attraction obsession with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux); his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); and their baby. Each day Rachel takes the train to Manhattan, past Tom's home, peeking at happiness she'll never know.
A few doors down live Megan and Scott Hipwell (Haley Bennett, Luke Evans), who are everything else Rachel can't have. Sexy, happy, did I mention sexy? Rachel sips vodka from a water bottle, ignoring passengers' stares while enduring the view.
One day, Rachel spies Megan on the porch embracing a strange man. The perceived betrayal sends Rachel on a bender, resulting in minor wounds and violent fragments of memory. Even scarier, Megan is missing and a crafty detective (dependable Allison Janney) suspects the lush. Whodunit and why is the lurid point, with Taylor following Hawkins' time-shuffled path of obvious motives.
Two qualities make The Girl on the Train somewhat interesting. Obviously one is Blunt, who can now add alcohol-induced disintegration to her growing list of mastered acting moves. Blunt doesn't play a comfortable or amusing drunk; Rachel is unstable enough to be guilty of something, without a need for phony redemption. Blunt keeps her character pathetically real in a movie that's phony.
Except for the other interesting aspect of The Girl on the Train. Hawkins' novel and now Taylor's movie is uncommonly femme-centric for a lurid Hollywood thriller that in the '80s would have starred Michael Douglas. Life and Lifetime changed a lot about pop fiction since then. These four women represent a range of maternal, spousal and professional instincts, from upright citizen to dive bar drunk, with trophy housewives in between. Their personalities aren't scripted any deeper than their demons but the escapist appeal is understandable.
When we-know-who finally gets what's coming, The Girl on the Train briefly reaches its campy feminist potential, after two hours of taking a transparent mystery too seriously. Still, I heard a few viewers after Tuesday's screening say Taylor's movie is better than the book. Spoiler alert.
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.