The Commuter

Release: Friday, January 12, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Byron Willinger; Philip de Blasi; Ryan Engle

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

The Commuter is the fourth time director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson have teamed up to deliver you the questionable goods. Sure, it was Pierre Morel’s Taken that discovered the fountain of ass-kicking youth within the 66-year-old actor, but it’s Serra who has really taken that template and run with it, testing its flexibility by placing the aging but clearly still agile action star in a variety of gritty situations. He’s experienced identity fraud, dealt with the Irish mafia and beaten up terrorists at cruising altitude. Though he hasn’t achieved much distinction with this approach, in championing quantity over quality the barceloní is at least giving us options.

Which is why it is so difficult for me to actually recommend something as . . . . bleghhh as The Commuter. Of all the vehicles built around Neeson’s very particular set of skills, the train thus far has proven to be the least effective. Or at least its villains have. The story is also disappointingly a retread of 2014, borrowing everything but the pilots and tray tables in their upright and locked position from that year’s Non-stop. 

In this one Neeson plays an ex-cop named Michael MacCauley who has been working in life insurance for the last ten years. He has taken the train in and out of the city every single day and because he has, Michael begins the film like everyone else, as persona very grata, before invariably getting roped into a murder conspiracy that could have fatal consequences for all. Think you’ve had a bad day? Try having this shoved on your plate after being unceremoniously let go from a job you desperately need.

Moments into yet another ordinary commute home (minus the whole being fired part) Michael is joined by a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her capacity) who can’t help but dump the plot all over his lap. In an Agatha Christie way she informs Michael there is one passenger on board who “does not belong,” and that, hypothetically, if he were to locate that person he would be rewarded with $100,000. The catch is he has no idea what the person looks like, the days of profiling complete strangers are far behind him, and (again, hypothetically) he must find the individual before the train reaches the end of the line. When Michael finds a stash of Ben Franklins in a lavatory he discovers that there is nothing hypothetical about this proposal.

Rounding out cast notables are Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill. The former, who reunites with Farmiga for the first time outside the realm of The Conjuring universe, offers a confidante in ex-partner Alex Murphy (like in RoboCop!) when things go all pear-shaped for Michael. Meanwhile Neill is absolutely wasted in the vastly underwritten role of Captain Name’s Not Important. At least one of them is meant to suggest something about corrupt cops and departments, but there’s just not enough material here to get a feel for what is being said about it. Yes, crooked cops. Those are . . . those are bad.

The Commuter should be praised for its commitment to realism — insofar as ‘real’ means mundane, uneventful. Yet that same tactic tends to tip the film itself into mundanity. Despite there being an attempt to survey the moral depths of his character, Michael just isn’t interesting enough to justify the sheer randomness of his involvement. On one hand, the film’s lack of big action feels appropriate, but then it leaves you with plenty of time to ponder on the motives of the villains. Or how many trains derail every year.

Look, what mechanizes these kinds of late-career action films doesn’t have to be some sophisticated scheme nor do they need to be borne out of a sociopolitical movement, but at the very least there should be some kind of weight behind the nefariousness. And if we never do believe the threat is strong enough to actually overpower him, for the love of Qui-Gon at least make the adventure compelling. The Commuter does neither of these things, and as a result leaves fans wanting off at the nearest possible stop.

“My career is running off the rails. Pah. Says who?”

Recommendation: B-grade Serra if you ask me. When much of life is about choice, why would you choose the rather uneventful and dramatically uninspired The Commuter? For those dreaming of the day they get Non-stop set on a train, well . . . . . . . dream no more.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “What’s in the bag?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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23 thoughts on “The Commuter

    • Unfortunately every now and then he gets caught up in a stinker. I think it is inevitable with these kinds of cookie-cutter action flicks. But it also helps enormously when a good cast is used effectively. Run All Night wasn’t a great one either but it made better use of Ed Harris as a villain. Folks coming in here for Vera Farmiga/Patrick Wilson will surely leave disappointed.

    • I usually get along pretty well with these Liam Neeson things, but this was a real dud. I didn’t buy into any of it. There are worse ways to spend your time, though.

  1. The “I am Spartacus” moment…lol.

    I really liked the first 30 minutes of this movie, shot really well, and the plot seemed to point more towards some interesting philosophical themes and theories. Lost a fair amount of interest once Farmiga physically left the movie, and the plot itself you summed up greatly. Corruption and bad cops and some “shadowy” organization we never find out about but can kill a person minutes after they step off the train with a bus…OK.

    Can’t call it completely bad though, only because Neeson and Collet-Serra, as formulaic as they may be, still deliver a solid formula.

    • Id say that on evidence of these non-villains, that formula is less solid these days. I really do believe there are tiers of greatness when it comes to these movies, and The Commuter just doesnt do enough for me to recommend. I was disappointed with how quickly I became bored of the story.

  2. We are close to the same on this movie although I rated it just a tad higher. Not really because I disagree with you, but because I get a weird (but measured) sense of enjoyment with these Neeson thrillers.

    • Yeah I do too, but this one didn’t cut it. Absolutely senseless villainy. At least in Non-stop there was kind of a point to the terror. And what the heck ever happened to Joanna?!

    • The movie has things to offer for fans, but I found it all watered down a bit too much. Like I said in the review, when there are so many other options with Liam Neeson, and with things that arent made by Jaume Collet-Serra, like The Grey, that tend to be better, why would you actually choose this one? Then again, hindsight is a bitch.

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