The Girl On The Train opens with Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) riding a train (duh) and telling the audience about a house she passes on her way to and from work every day, where she watches a woman live the perfect life she can’t have. The woman lives on the same street where Rachel and her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), used to live. Everything about this mood-setting prologue, from the melodramatic voiceover narration to the curiously employed fake-out Wong Kar-wai slow-motion, feels embarrassing and overwrought. But when we snap out of Rachel’s perspective and discover the purse full of empty airplane liquor bottles in her lap, everything changes.

Rachel isn’t riding the train to and from work. Tom isn’t her husband. They’re divorced. She spends her alimony money taking that pointless commute every day to get shitfaced and ogle the house they bought together and to covet the idyllic life Tom’s neighbor appears to possess. That dichotomy is central to The Girl on the Train, based on the novel of the same name. The film deals in the vast chasm between who we think we are and who we know ourselves to be. It also shows our obsession with the grass being greener on the other side of the fence, as Rachel is one point on a triangle of women trapped within the expectations society has set for them.

The woman Rachel watches every day is Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), an out-of- work gallery curator moonlighting as a nanny for Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson), who just happens to be Tom’s new wife and the mother of his child. While Rachel wishes she could go back to being the pre-day-drinker version of herself, Megan feels shackled to this married existence and writhes out of it like a snake shedding its skin. Anna, on the other hand, injects motherhood directly into her veins, at one point exclaiming that being a mother is the most important job a woman can do. The film is very concerned with the rich inner lives of women and how they reject or embrace prescribed traditional roles.

It’s an interesting angle for a thriller of this nature, especially given that all the male characters feel like toxic cyphers, save for Édgar Ramírez’s Kamal Abdic, whose emotional maturity seems more a byproduct of his position as a therapist than any kind of apologia to audience members who may be quietly muttering “not all men” into their popcorn buckets. The film boldly presents a prismatic sampling of human darkness swatches, each colored a separate shade of psychological tire fire. The women, initially at least, seem pitted against one another, their worst character traits exaggerated as clever bits of whodunit misdirection once Megan goes missing and the noir aspects of the story come to the fore.

The film’s marketing has garnered it copious comparisons to Gone Girl, but The Girl on the Train also calls to mind Closer, with its top notch cast interconnected by a web of sex and deceit. It shares common DNA with both films, but even at its ugliest, it fails to match the bitter cynicism of either of those pictures. Also, while this might be the finest film Tate Taylor has ever helmed, he’s still no David Fincher or Mike Nichols. So, even though the script crackles with nuance and tension, some of the knottier elements of the story are portrayed with a disappointing, stylistic bluntness.

Taylor does some interesting things with perspective, memory and unreliable narration throughout the film, but there’s something mundane about the cool color palette and vague Adrian Lyne sensuality. Fincher obviously uses a similar chromatic scheme, but his employment of that end of the spectrum feels sharp and chilling, whereas here, it has the laziness of a VSCO filter set to imply a mood it never takes the effort to achieve. Similarly, Danny Elfman’s score hopscotches between palatable and cloying, adding to the overall serviceable aesthetic.

If The Girl on the Train has a biggest strength, it’s this stellar cast. Blunt delivers the kind of turn that occasionally wins a Golden Globe but gets edged out by showier performances at the Oscars, which is to say, she continues her enviable streak of consistent excellence. But everyone brings their A-game, even small supporting players like Lisa Kudrow and Laura Prepon. It’s the rare thriller that largely keeps its characters on an even level of emotional reality. The movie turns real-life dread into genre movie thrills without insulting the delicate subject matter underlying the stark suspense. Even once the final twists and turns are unveiled with somewhat cartoonish flourish, the individuals still ring true as multidimensional people. The villain is never exaggerated to arch levels, because their intrinsic shittiness is evil enough.

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