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The Girl on the Train

Year: 2016
Production Co: Amblin Entertainment
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Hayley Bennet, Justin Theroux, Edgar Ramirez, Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson, Allison Janney, Lisa Kudrow

You can always tell the movies that have come from hit books. Any director will tell you film is a visual medium, and the visuals and cinematic language as well as the moods they're supposed to generate in an audience don't exist in book form – a plot made out of the same 26 letters everyone else has is your only way of getting and keeping a reader interested.

So movies based on phenomena from The Da Vinci Code to Twilight never really need a lot of flair, the studio lucky enough to win the bidding for the hit property simply has to throw a couple of bucks at a writer for hire to whittle the book down to the 90 minutes of action that will find their way onto screen and a generic shooter who's not too expensive to point a camera at it.

As such, The Girl on the Train has an oversupply of plot and not enough going on visually. It's the very model of a novel torn straight from the pages and thrown up on screen.

That's a strange complaint to make where decent original stories are still so hard to come by on movie screens, but whenever a studio picks up a hit book and assigns it to a director (Tate Taylor of The Help in this case), someone needs to remember that books belong on the page and movies on the screen.

It feels like the script by Erin Cressida Wilson has tried to stuff every little twist, characterisation and plot development into the movie come hell or high water, and the whole thing ends up a little bit hard to stick with as you try to figure out who everyone is and what tiny quirk of their lives connect them.

Moving the action in the novel from London to New York, Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a miserable suburbanite who works in Manhattan and gets the train there and back every day, watching carefully for a particular house on the river that's home to a beautiful young woman (Haley Bennett) and her brutish husband Scott (Luke Evans).

Rachel spends her time daydreaming about how perfect the attractive young couple's lives are because of the implosion of her own life after her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) walked out on her.

He now lives a few doors down from the couple Rachel's obsessed over with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and baby, whom Megan (Bennett) happens to nanny for. Confused yet? We haven't even got to the murder mystery yet!

One day while passing aboard her train as usual, Rachel sees Megan on her balcony in the arms of another man (Edgar Ramirez), who it turns out is actually the shrink she's come to rely on in the shadow of her unhappy marriage to Scott.

Seeing them together sends Rachel into an ever worse tailspin after it destroys the illusion of their perfect life, and when Megan disappears soon after, Rachel starts to wonder if she has something to do with it. Her regular blackouts and lost time thanks to the alcoholism she descended into after Tom left her leaves great swathes of her life unaccounted for.

It might all make more sense to watch than to describe, but for all the Hitchcock-level deception, confusion, lies and betrayals, the denouement of the story all feels a little bit limp compared to the Grand Guignol emotional melodrama that leads to it.

The one outstanding element is Blunt herself. The 33-year-old Brit is very game for the role of Rachel, completely free of vanity as she portrays an washed up, emotionally exhausted wreck who's drunk more often than not. At one point when she looks almost directly at the camera while sitting in her favourite seat on the train, Blunt looks like a ghoul, all hollowed out and sunken eyes and pale, sweaty pallor.

Unfortunately the rest of it's such an overwrought B movie potboiler it renders any good performance to be found therein kind of redundant. It might be a page-turner, but when you lose track of who's shagging who and why, you can't turn back the pages of a movie screen.

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