I remember first seeing Emily Blunt in the 2006 comedy “The Devil Wears Prada,” which cast her – at least in the beginning scenes – as a thoroughly unsympathetic character who wields her English accent like a verbal light saber.
In the 10 intervening years, Blunt has blossomed, her roles growing ever larger even as the movies she appeared in grew ever more diverse: romantic comedies such as “The Five-Year Engagement,” dramas such as “Your Sister’s Sister,” sci-fi films such as “The Adjustment Bureau” and “The Edge of Tomorrow” and hard-core dramatic action efforts such as “Sicario.”
Now we have “The Girl on the Train,” a psychological thriller based on the best-selling novel by British author Paula Hawkins. And if her other movies have given Blunt the opportunity to stretch her skills, “The Girl on the Train” goes even further.
Blunt plays Rachel, a divorced woman who is obsessed. And troubled. When we first see her, she is riding a train – thus the film’s title – back and forth from her home to New York City. En route, twice daily she passes the neighborhood where she once lived. And as she rides past, she can’t help but fantasize about both the house in which she once lived and the couple that lives nearby.
Played out in a distinctly non-chronological order, “The Girl on the Train” is several things at once. It’s a character portrayal of Rachel, a woman stumbling through life with a blurred history that only gradually becomes clear. It’s a mystery that involves the disappearance of a woman and the subsequent investigation that Rachel is driven to be part of. It’s a look at the real life that lies beneath the thin veneer of suburban normality, a life that – as John Cheever once documented – is all too often is marked by lust, lies and the most basic kinds of betrayal.
Ultimately, though, “The Girl on the Train” is about revenge. It’s about the control that men – some men, anyway – levy over their wives and lovers and how those same men can, and do, abuse that control for their own pleasure. And, when they wake up, how powerful women can be in their efforts to set things right.
Director Tate Taylor, whose previous films include the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” and the melodrama “The Help,” weaves author Hawkins’ whipsaw plot toward a relatively satisfying – if somewhat predictable – climax. More important, though, he gets decent performances out of his cast, both the men – including Luke Evans and Justin Theroux – and the women, especially the Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett (seen most recently in “The Magnificent Seven” remake), and Allison Janney as a tough police detective.
It is Blunt, though, on whom the movie depends most. Playing the troubled Rachel, whose trek toward the truth is agonizingly slow, could not have been easy. It certainly doesn’t make her look glamorous. But it does show what it takes to become an A-level movie star.
Beauty and drive, tenacity and timing – not to mention a ton of talent.