By Tom Gliatto
Updated October 18, 2016 04:54 PM
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Permanently stunned by a cruel divorce and daily numbed by booze, Rachel (Emily Blunt) spends her days riding the train up the Hudson River past her old home. It’s an obsessive journey into the past, which is miserable, and then back to her present, which is also miserable.

Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), lives there still, in the same house, only now he’s started a family with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Rachel realizes that spying on them, even from the window of a moving train, only reopens old wounds — Tom was still with Rachel when he started a fling with Anna — but she has a balm, and she applies it liberally: She fantasizes about the loving, lovely couple (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) a few doors down.

But then Rachel, whose alcohol blackouts make her a dicey witness, spots something amiss at Happy House, whose residents are named Megan and Scott. Faster than you can say “clickety-clack” she’s at the heart of a deadly mystery.

This Americanized adaptation of British author Paula Hawkins’ best-seller doesn’t wrap up as tautly as it should. If anything, the final scenes are like watching a well-braised pork shank after hours on the stove: The big, meaty pieces slide off the bone and into the murk of the stew. This is a problem.

The acting, on the other hand, is impeccably smooth and nimbly ambiguous, and in some ways compensates for a flaw in the book: The narrative is fractured into the three separate first-person perspectives (Rachel, Anna and Megan’s), but Hawkins’ prose doesn’t give any of them a voice that rises above the generically telegraphic (“I can’t believe it. I snatch air into my lungs and realize that I’ve been holding my breath”).

Blunt at times overdoes Rachel’s sullenness — she sets a new standard for Resting Sad Face — but Bennett’s Megan is attractively enigmatic, and Lisa Kudrow (in a small role that’s possibly the movie’s most inspired tweak on the original) delivers an important piece of information in a tone that approaches kindness and concern. That almost registers as a twist in its own right in a thriller determined (and rightly so) to construct a proper noir puzzle.

WATCH: Why Girl on the Train‘s Haley Bennett Had to Be Brave to Take This Role

It doesn’t hurt to have Allison Janney, either, doing a hard-boiled, “tell me another one, sister” act as a detective who thinks Rachel is just some cuckoo from the choo-choo.

Girl on the Train doesn’t have the cold, clinching nastiness of Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl, but it has the voyeuristic impulse — deceptiveness, too — that’s key to many good movie thrillers. You’ll be repeatedly fooled and surprised. Just like Rachel.

In theaters Friday, rated R.