Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller.
Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Andy Nyman, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neil, Dean-Charles Chapman.
Year Of Release:
Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi & Ryan Engle
“A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.” IMDB
Sometimes you just need to switch-off and Liam Neeson and his studio friends have made an awful lot money working to that logic. All aboard the action-thriller, which has become the go-to genre specialising in quick, disposable fun and Neeson’s reliable presence has made him an instant draw. The quality of said films are varied to say the least, but they are typically more hit than miss; they tend to up the adrenaline dose until the next repeat of Taken on the television, at least. But, more so than any other of Neeson’s action flicks, The Commuter is so ‘been there, done that’; a complete lack of inspiration or originality barely keeps it chugging along, almost grinding to a complete halt.
Down-on-his-luck Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is given the opportunity to earn $100,000 cash: all he must do is identify an individual who ‘does not belong’ on the commuter train-ride home and inform a mysterious woman, Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who can seemingly monitor his every move from the shadows. Finding himself too caught up to escape – with multiple lives are at stake – the conspiracy soon becomes much bigger than him alone. MacCauley has until the end of the line to decide what type of person he is.
There’s fun to be had with The Commuter if you keep the questions to a minimum. Start thinking about it too long and the whole narrative begins to crumble; it’s incohesive, scattershot and utterly preposterous. The three-person screenplay is less a script than it is a number of words that represent one idea; Non-Stop But On A Train seems to be the extent of their thinking. You can take that 2014 thrill-ride – which stands to reason as my favourite instalment in the Neeson-led sub-genre – and beat-for-beat recognise the structure and plot points of this wildly inferior go-round. To no one’s surprise, similar creatives teams worked on each and it’s a kick in the teeth to think they actually thought their audience was naive enough not to spot the overt resemblance.
Even Neeson seems tired by it all. With this performance, you believe him when he says his action days are behind him. Don’t get me wrong, for a 60-year old man, he impressively maintains pace. But like the film, you’ve seen this performance countless times before. It and he is without the complexity to elevate or separate it from every William Marks, Matthew Scudder and Jimmy Conlon he has played before (I did have to Google those names by the way). MacCauley is even less remarkable, defined by tropes, cliches and bad decisions. He’s compelling because he’s Liam Neeson butt-kicking his way to freedom, not because the character is well-sketched or because this particular performance is outstanding by any stretch of the imagination; he’s fine but goodness it’s all very one-dimensional.
Farmiga is appropriately mysterious playing the intriguing Joanna. While there’s very little substance to her character – and the film rushes to find a suitable explanation minutes before the credits roll – she at least tries to look interested. The Commuter’s supporting cast is padded out with B-listers performing relatively well enough with the limited material coming their way. Nobody quite earns their next pay-check mind, except for perhaps Patrick Wilson and Ella-Rae Smith.
More exhausting rather than exhilarating, Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction is fairly entertaining at times but utterly delirious elsewhere. Matched with Nicolas de Toth’s breakneck-speed editing, it is a relentless onslaught of quick cutting, heavy-handed chopping and hurried sticking-back-together-again. While the camera dances with the action rather stylistically, there are moments where it all becomes far too much. I don’t consider this a spoiler as the moment plastered all over the trailers, but there’s one sequence where the passengers in the carriage must brace for impact and a 30 second scene must consist of 50 separate shots as sporadic as it is disorientating.
So haphazardly assembled, I actually tensed in my seat; not out of enjoyment but sheer bewilderment at the unfolding chaos on screen. While Collet-Serra has elevated both Non-Stop, Orphan and The Shallows before, this is the weakest assertion of his talent. There’s some clever moments – like the train curving to throw characters in and out of frames – but nothing particularly noteworthy; but keeping the whole thing on, erm, track is something, right?
In Conclusion: The Commuter
There’s really not much else to say here. The Commuter is every late-career Neeson flick you have seen before; it’s just disappointing that his days as a full-blown action star ends on such a weak and clumsy note. The more you question the plot, the more glaringly shoddy, stale and lazy it becomes, with frequent lapses in logic and coherence very nearly taking the fun out of it completely. It’s instantly forgettable. If you are in search of a Liam Neeson film involving his special set of skills Taken, Non-Stop, A Walk Among The Tombstones and maybe even Run All Night register above The Commuter, a film that derails quicker than it took me to think up this pun. My mum liked it enough though, so what the heck.
This line terminates here – Liam Neeson’s action career, that is. What station will he be calling at next I wonder. Will he have to retrain? How will he conduct himself?
I’ll see myself out. I was running out of steam anyway. Ha.