Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
The Commuter is an action thriller film released in 2018 and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. The film stars Liam Neeson as a former cop working as an insurance salesman who finds himself unwittingly caught up in a conspiracy aboard his daily commuter train. The film also stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill. Although the film made a fair amount at the box office with global takings just shy of $120 million, the film received a mixed reaction from critics, who derided the picture for being too similar to another Neeson film directed by Collet-Serra: Non-Stop. In short, it is yet another film where Neeson plays an underestimated badass despite his increasing age, and it feels like another attempt at jumping on board the Taken bandwagon.
What's It About?
Michael MacCauley is a former cop now working as a life insurance salesman, happily married to his wife Karen and trying to work out how to pay for his teenage son Danny to go to college. Commuting into work one day, he is horrified to find himself suddenly fired due to apparent changes within the company and seeks his old police partner Alex Murphy (who is not RoboCop) to drown a couple of drinks in sorrow. Deciding not to share the news with Karen, Michael rushes to catch his train back home.
Onboard, he meets a mysterious woman called Joanna who poses him a hypothetical question. Suppose that there was a passenger onboard the train who didn't belong there, carrying a bag, going by the alias of Prynne - could Michael identify that person and plant a GPS tracker on them in exchange for a total of $100'000? As Michael realises that Joanna is serious, she leaves the train and Michael soon learns that not only is he in danger but his family and the unknown Prynne as well.
What's to Like?
Neeson, trapped in a perpetual spiral of ridiculous action movies ever since Taken revived his career, doesn't bring much to the table for this one but that doesn't mean you should ignore it. He's still compelling to watch and perhaps wisely, The Commuter doesn't really have an abundance of action sequences until the third act. For most of the film, the mystery passenger's identity is what propels the narrative and in detective mode, Neeson is much more believable than he is doing the rough-and-tumble stuff.
The film has some noticeable elements borrowed from Hitchcock, like the dangerous blonde woman, the fish-out-of-water hero and the fact it's on a train is also reminiscent of films like The 39 Steps and North By Northwest. Of course, the film lacks any slow-building tension due to the intermittent action sequences and the fact that Neeson is taunted by the baddie seemingly at every stop. My advice with this is to just settle down and enjoy it for what it is - genuinely, this was better than I thought it was going to be. Yes, it is almost exactly the same as Non-Stop but I preferred this film because it's more interesting and involving somehow. Having been a commuter myself, this film feels more relatable than the earlier film which didn't exactly spark much interest in me.
- This actually marks the fourth time Collet-Serra and Neeson have worked together following the releases of Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. It's also the third time Farmiga and Wilson have worked together although they don't share any screen-time - they both starred in The Conjuring and its sequel.
- The watch worn by Michael in the film is a Hamilton Jazzmaster Quartz - the exact same watch worn by Neeson in Taken 2.
- The station Michael travels in to work from is Tarrytown which is approximately 44 minutes away from Grand Central in New York. It's on the Hudson line, a commuter link between New York City and Poughkeepsie which runs alongside the east shore of the Hudson River.
What's Not to Like?
There's no escaping the fact that if you have seen pretty much any Liam Neeson film in the last ten years, you will have a rough idea of the strengths and merits of The Commuter. It's actually quite brazen how much Collet-Serra repeats the same narrative from Non-Stop, as if he's daring you to point it out. It gives the film a weary 'here-we-go-again' vibe which is a shame given the strength of the premise. It also repeats the calamitous third-act trick used in Non-Stop, throwing the narrative out of the window and introducing explosive action sequences that actually have little effect on the characters. When you see Michael beat up younger and stronger guys than himself after he pointed out his age, it does make you question whether the film is a massive in-joke.
There are other things I took umbrage with such as the omnipotence of Farmiga's femme fatale (how does she know everyone's phone number?) and also the ultimate reveal that betrays the hard work which went before it by being blindingly obvious. It also needed a better title than The Commuter which is about as exciting and gripping as a genuine commute. Given the painful similarity between this and Non-Stop, I do prefer this but I can't really explain why. It didn't feel as silly as the airborne antics of the first film but both feel derivative and over-written - a much simpler plot that didn't rely on coincidence so much would have helped enormously.
Should I Watch It?
If you have not seen Non-Stop yet, then The Commuter is a well-paced and intriguing thriller that is better than its yawnsome title might suggest, featuring Neeson in full-on 'hard' mode which is always watchable. But if you have, then this film is a long trip down memory lane, reminding you just how badly Collet-Serra is trying to replicate the success of Taken and still falling short.
Great For: anyone not yet bored of Neeson kicking ass, commuters to New York, action fans looking for something interesting
Not So Great For: commuters to London (who would never talk to each other on the train), lazy screenwriters, anyone looking for any tension in a thriller
What Else Should I Watch?
Between the release of Taken in 2008 and this film, Neeson starred in a total of fifteen action movies in just ten years which means that he must be eligible for the next Expendables movie by now. With at least two more in the pipeline, he's either making up for lost time or making the most out of his unexpected success with Taken. The film is still one of the best action thrillers of recent years, combining first-rate thrills with a tense storyline and Neeson in the form of his life. However, none of the preceding films - including sequels Taken 2 and Taken 3 - failed to improve on Pierre Morel's blistering action thriller.
How long he can keep things going at this rate remains a mystery. At the age of 66 at the time of writing, action cinema seems to be resting almost solely on the freakishly cartoony shoulders of Dwayne Johnson. With Jason Statham (51), Sylvester Stallone (72), Arnold Schwarzenegger (71), Vin Diesel (51) and Antonio Banderas (58) all feeling a little ragged in these kinda films, one wonders where the next generation comes from. For the foreseeable future, it would seem like Johnson is going to remain the rock (pun intended) of action cinema but as long as there is a market for explosive action and endless shootouts, studios will stick with bankable action stars regardless of their age.
Det. Lt. Alex Murphy
Capt. David Hawthorne
Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi & Ryan Engle*
Release Date (UK)
19th January, 2018
Action, Mystery, Thriller
© 2018 Benjamin Cox