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In its time through production and leading up to release, director Tate Taylor's The Girl On The Train has been constantly likened to David Fincher's recent Gone Girl - and the comparisons aren't totally unfounded. Both are fall thrillers that are based on highly-successful, pulpy crime novels written by women, and both explore the dark underside of modern married life while constantly having the audience question the trustworthiness and presumed innocence of the central protagonist. Ultimately it's a semblance that works in Fincher's movie's favor, thanks to coming first and being the better movie - but it's no reason to dismiss The Girl On The Train, as the film does manage to build as a compelling mystery driven by a truly fantastic lead performance.
Adapted from the book of the same name by Paula Hawkins, The Girl On The Train centers on three different women with interconnected lives -- the eponymous character being Emily Blunt's Rachel Watson. A serious alcoholic still reeling from the failure of her marriage, she rides the rails every morning, and spends her time fantasizing about the lives of a couple (Hayley Bennett and Luke Evans) she sees every day from her seat. Unfortunately, this routine winds up taking a dramatic turn when Rachel believes she witnesses the woman cheating on her husband with another man (Edgar Ramirez).
Unable to cope with the idea of this beautiful young woman seemingly throwing her perfect life away, Rachel is driven to a hardcore bender -- which winds up making things a hell of a lot worse. It's bad enough that she wakes up in her bed covered in blood and vomit, but things get a certain shade darker when it's revealed the young woman is both missing, and that she has been working as the nanny for Rachel's ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). With no clear memory of what happened, and the police looking into her very closely, Rachel begins an investigation of her own, both to try and figure out what really happened during her blackout, and establish her own innocence.
Going any deeper into plot details is a nice stroll through a spoiler minefield, but that should give you a taste of the twisty mystery that fuels the narrative and, mostly successfully, keeps the audience guessing. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson's adaptation of Paula Hawkins' novel is well-built, both in its three-perspective structure that paces out all the hints and clues, and in its character construction, which builds on those elements by making you question what is presented as even the most blatant fact. Without explaining too much, I do feel it is important to note that I managed to outpace the script as far as the larger mystery is concerned, figuring out the ending before the central figures did -- but it speaks to the quality of the movie that you can still enjoy the ride to the end.
A big part of that enjoyment stems from Emily Blunt's presence, as the actress gives a magnificent performance in The Girl On The Train that arguably ranks as the best of her career to date. Beautiful as Rachel may be, she is an ugly, ugly drunk, and Blunt brings her to life so vividly that the smell of booze practically permeates the screen. She is a complete mess with an aura of pure melancholy, but Blunt keeps her charismatic and fascinating along with the character's evolving arc -- as Rachel finally finds a purpose in life when actively trying to prove her own innocence in the central mystery. Even in the films slower, more obvious moments, Blunt remains utterly compelling and is truly what will keep audiences invested.
The Girl On The Train doesn't break any new ground, push any envelopes, or devastate any emotions -- but it is what you want on the surface: an engaging, legitimately thrilling mystery that plays with interesting unreliable narrator brought to life with a phenomenal performance. It's the exact kind of high-profile drama for which Hollywood has basically built the fall season, and it's worthy of your box office dollar.