STUDIOCANAL UK (2018)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill, Florence Pugh, Dean-Charles Chapman
Time to dust off those old skills, Mr Neeson…
The mediocre movie marriage between Neeson and Collet-Serra continues with The Commuter. Not content with telling the story of a man’s trip to and from work, traversing the many perils of the subway before returning home with his tie knot loosened and brow furrowed, oh no – this commute comes with blackmail, guns, fights, trainwrecks and a…lethal guitar?
You guessed it, it’s that type of movie.
Trapped in a decade-long routine of commuting to work in order to support his family, insurance salesman (and ex-cop) Michael (Neeson) finally gets to work to find out that he’s being laid off. Great. It’s the commute home that becomes the bigger issue. After a mysterious stranger, Joanna (Farmiga), sits with him and offers $100,000 to complete a simple job, Michael is required to discover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop – Cold Springs, New York. Racing against the clock to solve the mystery, he soon begins to realise something bigger, something more sinister is unfolding. Michael is now unsuspectingly trapped in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death ramifications for everyone on the train – and Michael’s wife and son also.
The key observation I took from The Commuter is, boy, am I glad I don’t have to commute on a daily basis. It’s far too crowded, too much hustle and bustle.
To begin with, it would be folly to pick this movie apart and call out its raging plot holes and inexplicable acts of the one-man wrecking ball, the Irish tank – Liam Neeson. It’s a rampaging action romp where a man can go from fired salesman to leaping from trains, brawling with men half his age and negotiating life or death hostage situations (tell me which police training courses cover all of that again?). A guitar is used as a lethal weapon and the mystery is easily solved simply by paying attention for the first twenty minutes. Still, if its action and some excitement you’re after, you’re sure to get it here.
Liam Neeson is his now-standard self, grizzled, stubborn and ready to beat anything that stands in his way. He doesn’t put a foot wrong in doing this and it’d be hard to argue that it isn’t still a bit cool to see angry Liam in full flow. The very decent supporting cast is squandered in minor roles – the likes of Sam Neill, Florence Pugh and Elizabeth McGovern relegated to faces in the crowd, and the seemingly inseparable duo of Farmiga and Wilson cropping up in bit-parts. Everyone is very serious here, and good for them too.
The story is actually incredibly intriguing – a man is accosted aboard a train by a mysterious lady and offered money to find a passenger somewhere aboard the vehicle. The hallmarks of a solid thriller and a more Neeson-y Murder on the Orient Express were at hand, perhaps shades of the great Hitchcock? No, no not here. Any nuance is quickly blown away in favour of mindless action and stunts that are more befuddling than anything. Also, nobody thought it was particularly strange that Michael kept prowling up and down the train, looking sweatier and more bloodied each time? When they did, it was rather late. The big finale is over-the-top and as dramatic as you’d expect, but there’s absolutely no tension to draw you in. It’s all bluster and no heart.
The Commuter is what it is – an action thriller that doesn’t pertain to be anything but. There are some subtle messages about the nefarious deeds of the banks but this is solely another vehicle for Neeson to show off his combat chops with relish, for the last time, apparently. It's no Strangers on a Train or Murder on the Orient Express, hell, it’s not even Taken - but The Commuter is at times fun, genuinely ridiculous and not as awful as it really could have been.
January 19th 2018