THE COMMUTER: All Too Familiar
Amid the rubble that is The Commuter, there is an entertaining enough film to provide respite during the Winter blues, just don’t expect too much.
Will we ever get tired of watching Liam Neeson action/thrillers? That is the question that came to mind when I first heard about his newest Film, The Commuter, his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet- Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night and Unknown). My initial response is no, but regrettably after this ride, I’m thinking the shtick may have possibly run its course.
Neeson, Fast Moving Train, Devious Plot… What can go wrong?
Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is having a dreadful day. The former cop has been fired unexpectedly from his insurance job and doesn’t know how to face his wife and child (who is going off to college soon). MacCauley decides to meet with his ex-partner, Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) for a drink and some advice. Other cops congregate in the background, clearly a common hangout for the men in blue, particularly Captain Hawthorne (Sam Neill) who we get the idea MacCauley isn’t too fond of.
For the last 10 years he’s routinely commuted home, knowing many of the other riders. We see Michael be friendly with several as he later boards the train. Soon after finding a seat the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) settles in across from him. To be polite he indulges her whims regarding a hypothetical experiment. You see, Joanna studies human behavior, and her job is to answer one question: “What kind of person are you?” It is a concept that hardly gets its due and one that – if elaborated on – could have made for a more interesting plot.
All he must do is one tiny thing (her words) and he can get $100,000 with $25,000 already in the one of the train’s bathrooms. This requirement turns out to be anything but simple, as he’s forced to find a person on the train that doesn’t belong. These are the clues: they are carrying a bag, they go by a fake name, and they are getting off at a certain station.
A ruse, right? When Joanna doesn’t back down he begins to get the sinking feeling that this is real. When he finds the money, it is confirmed. But, what kind of person is he? Though he’s clearly in need of the money he’s also honorable. When a stranger delivers his wife’s (Elizabeth McGovern) wedding ring, the connotations make him realize he never had a choice.
Right from his opening entrance onto the train the camera pans to several of the commuters, giving us a variety of faces to consider. Is it the bad-mannered wall street guy, or maybe the quiet nurse who is constantly checking her phone?
Conspiracies, Set-up’s & Whodunnits
Unfortunately, right from the beginning it is also clear who he’s looking for and who is behind the conspiracy. There is not much room for speculation which hurts the film’s credibility, especially when he seriously struggles with figuring this out. Maybe the predictable nature of story won’t bother some who are looking for a fun movie night, but it didn’t help.
Just as he did in the Taken trilogy (his particular “set of skills”) and his previous films with Jaume Collet- Serra, he knows how to confidently play this sort of character. It is too bad, however, that this role didn’t give him more of a challenge. The Commuter isn’t either of their best. Jaume Collet- Serra’s The Shallows worked from a place of tangible fear. This movie lacks the sincerity needed to achieve that.
A very limited role by Jonathan Banks is underutilized. Patrick Wilson is also a disappointment; he’s completely adequate with what’s expected of him, there just isn’t much to his thinly constructed character. Vera Farmiga knows how to be compelling, but Joanna’s screen time is so limited that she doesn’t make enough of an impression.
I wish The Commuter had more of an identity and had less Non-Stop parallels. Michael is chosen for his familiarity with the others on board, and because of his history as a detective, but the web of deceit is bigger than he first imagines. I believe the this would have benefited from a simpler route than what was decided. Big isn’t always better. The story was created by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, and together along with Ryan Engle they wrote the screenplay. Their dialogue seemed too staged, setting it up for obvious knock-downs later on.
There is good use of the camera and for the most part the action is the best when done more intimately, specifically one scene (that might be one of its best) when Neeson fights another passenger. The draw here is in the chaotic hand to hand and the nod to just how dangerous a fast-moving train can be – swiftly reminded when he gets his head shoved out a window – as well as sharp choreography. This is also executed when Michael is forced to go below the train, engineering another irking prompt that raises the stakes.
Conclusion: The Commuter
There is a rousing quality to the first half of the movie that’s lost in the remainder. Like a ticking bomb, eventually what’s amusing is blustered by cheesy sentiments and overzealous effects. Not entirely without its merits, The Commuter is a mystery with no real intrigue and a drama without enough substance to cement itself as one of Neeson’s best. Amid the rubble there is an entertaining enough film to provide respite during the Winter blues, just don’t expect too much.
To go back to my question: Will we ever get tired of watching Liam Neeson action/thrillers? When considering The Commuter, the conspiracy element here seemed too gimmicky, the final act was too long and too loud, and cliche comments with lesser characters at the end seemed too much. In the end it still amused me, so… not quite weary yet. I am still holding out for another The Grey.
What did you think? Do you still love watching Liam Neeson movies like this?
The Commuter hit theaters in the US January 12th and UK January 19th. For other international release dates click here.
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