The Girl on the Train’ plays out like a conventional mystery

It’s the kind of story that could easily fit into a Lifetime movie.

Three stars

The Girl on the Train Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux. Directed by Tate Taylor. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

For all its misdirections and obfuscations, at heart The Girl on the Train is a pretty conventional mystery with a pretty conventional (and eventually fairly predictable) outcome. Based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins, Train has been marketed as a sort of spiritual successor to Gone Girl, David Fincher’s twisty thriller based on Gillian Flynn’s novel. But while Gone Girl offered up a dark, nasty and psychologically troubling take on the crime genre, Train is much more straightforward, with the kind of story that could easily fit into a Lifetime movie.

At first it’s not quite clear why recently divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt) is fixated on the seemingly perfect life of Megan (Haley Bennett), a woman she glimpses every day during her train commute from the suburbs into Manhattan, but the movie gradually reveals the connections among Rachel, Megan, Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and Tom’s new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Those connections are tested when Megan goes missing, and everyone in her life becomes a suspect in her disappearance.

Did Rachel do something to Megan during a drunken blackout on the night Megan disappeared? The answer to that question turns out to be less interesting than it first appears, and the fractured timeline obscures mostly mundane secrets. But what Train lacks in innovative thrills, it makes up for in engrossing, well-drawn characters, with Blunt and Bennett playing Rachel and Megan as vulnerable, difficult women whose flaws make them easy for others to dismiss, even when they are in obvious pain. As a story of women being manipulated by arrogant men, Train has surprising resonance, but it’s not quite enough to carry the movie.

The direction from Tate Taylor (The Help) has a flat, TV-movie quality, although his reliance on close-ups (particularly of Blunt and Bennett) helps sell the characters’ sense of being trapped in their circumstances. It also makes the story feel a bit limited, and once it’s clear who’s ultimately responsible for the central crime, the movie loses all momentum. The characters are vibrant enough to keep following, but their ordeal lacks the same fascination.

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