Anthony's Film Review

The Girl on the Train (2016)

A mystery that nicely unravels as it moves along...

I love a good mystery. I enjoy stories that present a central question for which the answer will eventually be revealed. Of course, it's not just the thrill of finally discovering the answer that's worthwhile, but also the intrigue of looking for the answer and predicting what it might be. This is why Sherlock Holmes and other fictional detectives captivate so many people. But let's not forget mysteries where the main character is trying to solve a mystery for personal reasons, rather than solving a mystery as part of an investigative occupation. One such mystery in recent years quickly rose to bestseller status and has been made into a movie: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I did not read the book, but after seeing it displayed so often on websites of online stores, such as Amazon and Audible, I decided to see the movie and find out what the hype is all about.

The first thing I like about this story is the setup. The title character is a sad, lonely woman named Rachel (played by Emily Blunt). She spends much of her time riding a train and, along a specific segment of her usual route, watches people inside and outside houses situated close by. It's as if she chooses to spend her time envying others and imagining herself in their shoes, instead of taking steps to actually improve her life. Even before more of this character is revealed later, it is clear that Rachel is deeply disturbed. After this introduction, the movie introduces the other two central characters. One is Anna (played by Rebecca Ferguson), a woman with a husband and a baby. The other is Megan (played by Haley Bennett), a young woman who works as Anna's nanny.

I will not reveal anything else about these women, nor will I present details of the other characters or of the plot itself. This is a mystery story, after all. For me to divulge further information is to take away the fun of following the events of the story. I will, however, talk about how the movie is structured and the style in which the story is presented.

Think of this mystery as comprising two kinds of mysteries: mystery of character and mystery of plot. The former refers to the fact that the movie reveals new details about the characters and what they have gone through. The latter refers to the big central question halfway through the movie, when something happens to one character and an investigation ensues. The two kinds of mysteries coexist simultaneously and feed off each other. When you focus on the plot mystery, you can't help but need to know more about the characters because the explanation may lie somewhere among them. Likewise, when you learn more about the characters, you wonder if they are connected to the plot mystery. Really, this movie is a mystery for the audience, not an investigator in the story, to follow. Watching this movie is like seeing a covered picture exposed bit by bit until the whole thing is visible.

As for how the film looks and feels, I would describe it as sometimes quiet, sometimes dark and intense. Some scenes feature characters speaking in a relatively quiet setting, often during moments of self-contemplation. Other scenes are designed to make you hold your breath momentarily in fear, such as those involving one specific character's hazy flashbacks. Speaking of flashbacks, the story is told somewhat out of chronological order. It starts in the present, then paints a narrative taking place in the past, sprinkled with momentary flashbacks going even further back in time. If you're the kind of person who gets disoriented easily by convoluted story chronologies, don't worry. It's not terribly convoluted here. It's mostly easy to follow the story, and you should be able to distinguish the recent past, distant past, and the present.

Before I forget, let me talk about the cast. I think the stars of this movie deliver good performances, especially during scenes where emotions have to run high. Still, one star stands out more, and that star is Emily Blunt. She practically sinks into the role of a woman who is so depressed that she's either borderline unstable or obviously out of control emotionally. This may sound like the kind of person one should avoid, but as the movie reveals more about her, it's hard not to feel for her and understand her pain. Then, when the central plot mystery comes up, it's hard not to feel concern for her, because we don't want to see her as a bad person, even if certain characters assume otherwise.

The Girl on the Train may not be the greatest mystery story ever, because the big revelation at the end is one we may have seen in other mystery stories (as opposed to twists and revelations that are so original and unexpected that it's hard not to be stunned), but this is still a nicely presented story because of how something new is revealed every few minutes and because the big revelation at the end still packs some punch. So now I know why Paula Hawkins's novel of the same name became a bestseller. It's mysterious, intriguing, and emotionally charged. Of course, I haven't read the book, so if you want a review from someone who did read it, look elsewhere. But if you want a review uninfluenced by knowledge of the book, you can be assured, from my experience, that you may like this movie. The Girl on the Train takes you on a memorable ride.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about The Girl on the Train, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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