Movies and plays take most of my time, so I don’t have as much time for books. Thus, “The Girl on the Train” the movie, starring Emily Blunt and based on the runaway best seller by Paula Hawkins, was a complete surprise!

The trailer is a grabber and I couldn’t wait to see the film. When I did, I discovered a “psychological” thriller where psychology takes a back seat to all the sex and violence, temptation and betrayal that fuel a good romance novel.  No surprise. Its British author wrote romance novels before her breakthrough novel “The Girl on the Train.” We’re not talking “Anna Karenina ” here; unlike that lovesick girl who ended up under a train, this girl is headed on a journey of discovery–however potentially harrowing. The issues raised are a heady brew stirred by our attraction to a trio of beautiful, magnetic actresses, and some wily storytelling.

Emily Blunt plays Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee whose husband Tom (Justin Theroux) starts a new life in their old home. Rachel can see her newly inhabited house from her window seat on the train as she passes by. She also observes another woman Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans), neighbors living a house away. Megan, we soon discover, is the nanny to Rachel’s ex-husband and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby Evie.

These performances and the structure of the narrative is completely engaging. Blunt is extraordinary as a woman lost and stumbling as she tries to “recollect” the fragments of her shattered life and memory. One of the most devastating scenes is her first appearance at an AA-like meeting; as she introduces herself for the first time we watch helpless, as her own sense of appalling shame tears at her dignity.

As Megan, Haley Bennett is sexy, dangerous and complicated in the way that the actress Theresa Russell was onscreen. Rebecca Ferguson as Anna seems a more brittle version of Megan. From the get go, we sense these women share something, an emotional temperature, a way of dodging and weaving around life’s tragedies. Eventually we understand more fully what and why.

The screenplay does an excellent job of keeping us as unbalanced as these women, using scattered flashbacks, and shifting points of view as we try to fit the pieces of this evolving puzzle together. The husbands and the psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez) at first seem like pawns in the hands of this tormented triumvirate. But as the knotty tale unravels–and I won’t ruin any of its surprises– we understand that things are not as they seem.

This is a carefully calibrated potboiler, more finely-tuned onscreen than “Gone Girl,” and compelling from beginning almost to the drawn out end. Its excellent cast also includes Alison Janney as an insinuating detective, Lisa Kudrow, and Laura Prepon. The film never really aims at a level of insight beyond a garden variety message of female empowerment within a narrow set of pretty suburban circumstances. But within those boundaries “The Girl on the Train” is a pretty slick ride.

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