‘The Commuter’ manages to stay on the rails

by Tim English on January 13, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

What’s the point in a review? The Commuter is just “Taken on a Train,” right? Not so fast. Actually, the seemingly paint-by-numbers Liam Neeson flick owes a little more to Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train than it does Neeson’s recent redundant filmography. It’s predictable at times and it doesn’t dig deep enough into some of the interesting philosophical questions it poses, but for the most part it’s a pretty decent little action thriller.

The film opens with an interesting montage introducing us to Neeson’s character, Michael MacCauley, an insurance salesman pushing past 60, his wife and son, and the boring daily train commute he’s been making every day for 10 years. When he’s unceremoniously fired, MacCauley struggles with how to inform his family he’s let them down, lingering on his commuter train until he has a chance encounter with a mysterious woman, Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who proposes a hypothetical situation in which MacCauley could help her by doing something that won’t affect him personally, but he’ll receive $100,000. If he doesn’t help, he’ll be framed for a crime. Decisions, decisions.

This hypothetical question is an interesting driving question that fuels MacCauley’s investigation. The clock is ticking. His family’s life might be at stake. He doesn’t know who to trust. He doesn’t know what to believe. Okay, maybe it is like pretty much every Liam Neeson movie made in the last ten years, but thankfully director Jaume Collet-Serra relies more on mystery and suspense rather than straight up in your face action, even if that question is never fully explored as deeply as it could have been.

This is the fourth collaboration (and easily the best) between Neeson and Collet-Serra (Unknown, Run All Night, Non-Stop). Neeson is pretty much playing Liam Neeson at this point. As MacCauley, he’s the relatable badass. He’s an ex-cop here, for no other reason than to have it make sense that he would have such keen detective skills and justify him beating the living crap out of dudes later on. It would have been just as interesting for him to be a regular joe in this situation. Sometimes regular dudes win fights. Not everyone needs to be military and combat trained.

But whatever, he’s still pretty good at what he does. The supporting cast is great, but they aren’t given enough to do. Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) isn’t around long enough as a fellow commuter and Farmiga is only on screen a few times as the film’s femme fatale. Patrick Wilson plays MacCauley’s former cop partner, his only friend on the outside of the train. But, it’s Neeson’s show and for the most part, he carries it as well as he usually does.

The film is at it’s best during his investigation as he begins to make his way through the train, trying to determine which passenger(s) hold the clues to unravel the mystery before the train gets to its final stop. Unfortunately, it does fall into a lot of convenient plot solutions and most of the twists are tipped off a little too early. But despite these flaws they still seem to work effectively enough to make this a fairly enjoyable flick.

The Commuter does its audience a favor by clocking in at around an hour and 45 minutes. It’s actually one of the few movies I’d say could have benefited by tacking on a few more scenes that explored some of the more interesting yet underdeveloped thematic elements. But I’m probably asking a little too much from a Liam Neeson action movie being released at the beginning of January.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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