Movie review: 'Girl on the Train' delivers pulpy page-turner to screen

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

I realize that many, many wonderful movies have been adapted from books, but I still think the practice is overdone and full of pitfalls.

So I went into "The Girl on the Train" with muted expectations and, perhaps because of them, came out somewhat pleasantly surprised.

It's occasionally eye roll-inducing and cheats on some major plot points, but it's a pulpy whodunit that is elevated considerably by its lead performance.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is the titular girl on the train (Can we say "woman," please?). Recently divorced, she longs for the life that she had planned out as she passes by houses each day on her commute to New York City. Rachel also has a significant alcohol-dependency problem.

Rachel fixates on Megan (Haley Bennett), a younger woman who lives in a perfect suburban home with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). Megan's life seems idyllic to Rachel, but Megan's reality is anything but.

Just two doors down is the real root of Rachel's painful obsession: The home she used to share with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who now lives there with his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby.

One day Rachel steps off the train in a drunken rage. She awakens after a blackout, bloody and confused. She's a witness to the mystery that unfolds, even as her own memory fails her.

British author Paula Hawkins' novel is the basis for "Girl on the Train," and it bears more than a few narrative cheats that can be problematic moving to the big screen, such as multiple narrators withholding information, particularly when one is unreliable because she's an alcoholic.

In the middle act, I had to give director Tate Taylor ("The Help") and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson a lot of leeway in accepting some of Rachel's behavior, which was needed to move the plot but didn't pass the "oh, come on" test of behavior.

At a certain point, I let go and just got into the pulpy, page-turner aspect of a layered story of sex and deceit. Some twists you'll see a mile away, but some are actually pretty slickly executed.

Of course, Blunt is probably the difference between this being a solid thriller and a Lifetime Movie of the Week. She gives a raw performance that has a lot more nuance than some would give the role.

I somewhat famously hated David Fincher's "Gone Girl" for too often trying to pass itself off as art instead of pulp. That's not a problem here.

"The Girl on the Train"

Opens Thursday

3 stars out of 4