The harshest criticism that can be levelled at a film based on a best-selling novel is that it has taken liberties in re-telling the story – that it is unfaithful to the book. Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s hugely successful whodunnit makes a rod for its own back, however, by being so infinitesimally true to its source. Those who have no idea what might have happened to Megan Hipwell, and why, will undoubtedly be held in suspense by Erin Cressida Wilson’s taut and faultlessly constructed script, whereas those of us only too well aware of her fate will be watching to see if Taylor ‘gets it right’ (it was also the case, for me, with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, to which this is not entirely dissimilar).
The only change that has been made, and it is purely cosmetic, is that the events now take place in upstate New York rather than outer London. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a woman on the skids – divorced, unemployed and sinking into alcoholism. She fantasises over the perfect life of Megan (Haley Bennett), whom she sees every day from the train that she rides to the city. That Megan had been employed as a nanny by Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), and that they happen to live in the same street is a coincidence that seems steeper on screen than it did on the page, so as a psycho-drama much depends on Blunt’s performance.
The weight of the story is entirely on her shoulders, with Megan’s voracious but fragile sexuality not fully explored and Anna reduced to bit-player status. Fortunately, Blunt is up to the task, taking you with Rachel through her splintered reality. If the final revenge scene of feminist brutalism is not quite believable – what Anna does is almost comical – don’t blame the director. Hawkins wrote it exactly like that and it didn’t ring true to me when I read it, but it brought the house down at the screening I attended.