From the crystal-clear opening shots of New York City’s skyline to a brooding room with a guy duct-taped to a chair, “The Girl on the Train” is a mesmerizing odyssey.
It is at turns a murder mystery, a crime drama, a psychological thriller noir, and a thought-provoking look into what is real and what is fantasy. And when you get to the end, don’t be surprised if you’re still not sure which is which.
The “what is real and what is fantasy” question begins with the opening scenes and voiceover as the camera pans to a man duct-taped to a chair in a cheerless room: “The thing is, even after everything, I wanted to believe. Duct-taped to a chair, inches from oblivion, I still wanted to believe her. It’s a myth that we use only five percent of our brains. As anyone who’s lost even the smallest bit knows, we use pretty much all of it, and even that’s not enough.”
From there, we move to a brightly-lit room with documentary filmmaker Danny Hart (Henry Ian Cusick) interviewing an older man, Morris Herzman (David Margulies), about his time in a concentration camp. He recalls a woman “with innocent blue eyes, an angel” who takes a gold cross from around her neck and presses it into his hand, as his wife Rina (Waltrudis Buck) looks on but remains quiet during the interview.
Then, Danny is in an interrogation room being grilled by Detective Lloyd Martin (Stephen Lang). Danny’s hand is wrapped in a bandage, and we surmise that he’s the aforementioned man duct-taped to the chair, unveiling the circumstances that brought him to this point. The discussion involves “other universes” where he might meet this girl again, and Det. Martin’s attempts to piece together what happened. “I haven’t quite figured out if you’re a victim or a suspect,” he tells Danny.
The Girl at the center of everything is Lexi (Nicki Aycox), whom Danny meets on a train (and I absolutely love the shots of the train traveling along a river; the cinematography in this film is gorgeous). He’s crafted a whole story about her, which he explains to her after plopping down beside her on the train…
She’s spent weeks riding this training looking for a particular guy, he explains. Every day for seven years, she buys a ticket, gets on the train, takes it to Poughkeepsie, then heads home alone.
She scoffs at him and says, “I wouldn’t spend that much time tracking someone down if they murdered my mother.”
We learn there’s more to that statement than meets the eye, and as Danny gets drawn into her story, the film threads its way between Lexi, Det. Martin, the Herzmans, and that noir room with the ever-present duct-tape and Danny’s voiceover once again: “Duct-taped to a chair, nail through my hand, two dead guys on the floor … I still wanted to believe her.”
“The Girl on the Train” is a thinking-person’s movie. You can’t check your phone or think about your to-do list or go get popcorn (so stock up before the movie starts). You have to pay attention; otherwise, you’ll miss some crucial element of the film.
In a sea of high-budget blockbusters and desperate sequels, “The Girl on the Train” is a welcome relief with just the right amounts of drama, crime, mystery and intrigue. Not too much of any one thing, and you get the feeling the actors, all of whom turn in solid performances, are there because they truly want to do this movie.
“The Girl on the Train” is compelling film noir for the 21st century. I see so many commercial movies where the players just seem like they’re phoning it in. Their heart really isn’t in it anymore. So I’m always thrilled to watch a movie that really is all about the love of filmmaking and acting. Thank you to the cast and crew for making this movie.
Written and directed by Larry Brand, “The Girl on the Train” is executive produced by Ross Satterwhite and produced by Gary Sales, Rebecca Reynolds and James Carpenter.