So you’re a guy who has a routine. You commute to work on the same commuter train every day and have been for the last ten years. You know the folks who regularly use the train and are friendly with them. One day, you get fired from your job as an insurance salesman. Not having the heart to tell your wife about it over the phone, you sit on the train by yourself and decide to read a book while you ponder how to break the bad news to your wife.
Then, a woman you’ve never seen before sits in the seat opposite you and strikes up a conversation. You’d like to be alone with your thoughts but don’t want to be rude. The woman tells you her name is Joanna and that this is the first time she’s been on this train. You tell her you’ve been taking this train every day for the last ten years. She says you probably know a lot of the other regulars, to which you agree. She then asks a somewhat unusual question.
Suppose, hypothetically, that she asked you to do something. Something that would not affect you personally, but would have a profound effect on someone you didn’t know. In return for this small favor, you would receive a hundred thousand dollars. Keeping in mind that you’ve just lost your job and have a kid who will be going to college soon, you can’t help but ask yourself…
…Would you do it?
Such is the dilemma faced by Michael MacCauley, played by the great Liam Neeson in his new film, The Commuter. It’s the fourth collaboration between Neeson and wonderfully-named Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously directed Neeson in the thrillers Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. I’m a big fan of all three of those movies. They’re not perfect and the first two are very implausible, but they’re a heck of a lot of fun. They’re unabashedly entertaining B-movies which are tightly constructed and technically proficient. Collet-Serra’s shark attack thriller The Shallows is also quite a bit of fun, and features what may be Blake Lively’s best performance. Just throwing that out there.
Has Liam Neeson made movies like The Commuter before? Yes. Non-Stop in particular has a number of striking similarities to The Commuter, in that they both take place mostly in a single location and Neeson’s character has to unravel a mystery in that location while a larger conspiracy begins to unfold. In Non-Stop Neeson played an air marshal, and in The Commuter his character was a cop before he became an insurance salesman, so it’s safe to say that he knows a few things most of us wouldn’t when it comes to solving crimes and kicking ass.
But his characters in both films are vastly out of their depth. His character in Non-Stop is an alcoholic and in The Commuter he’s a responsible husband and father, but he hasn’t been a cop in a decade so his skills are a little rusty. Another similarity the two films share is that they both have scenes of Neeson accosting his fellow passengers and driving people crazy as he attempts to figure out which one among them is not who they appear to be. The Commuter is a lot like Murder on the Orient Express, only with more fistfights.
I like the idea of setting an exciting, fast-paced action movie in a single location. It increases the tension because the hero has limited options and must be more strategic. The blueprint for this kind of movie is of course Die Hard, which has yet to be outdone. But The Commuter makes a damn good try. It must be very difficult to set an entire movie in a single location, especially a cramped location like a train or plane. The Commuter is a very well-directed movie, and has one of the best fight scenes of any of Neeson’s action films.
The mysterious Joanna is played by the always great Vera Farmiga, although she’s sadly underused. She makes an impression with her limited screen time, though. I just wish the movie found more use for her. Patrick Wilson, her co-star from The Conjuring movies, is also in the movie as Neeson’s former partner. Sam Neill of all people is also in the movie as a police captain. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wilson and Neill are also underused. Underutilized supporting characters are a common flaw shared by Neeson and Collet-Serra’s collaborations. Poor Lupita Nyong’o had almost nothing to do in Non-Stop.
In an action movie set on a train, it should also not come as a surprise that the train eventually derails and goes tumbling end over end. I’ve heard some complaints about the CGI in this sequence, but to me it looked fine. What did surprise me was that the train crash was not the end of the film, there was quite a bit more to the story that happens after the train crashes.
A month or so ago, there was an awful train derailment that happened in my home state of Washington that made national news. It was nothing more than a weird coincidence that that happened so close to the release of this movie, but after the train crash scene I couldn’t help but be reminded of the pictures of the real train crash that I saw in the newspaper. Anyone who is sensitive to such things might want to skip this movie, although the timing was just a coincidence.
If one wanted to, one could easily pick holes in the movie’s plot. It gets a little farfetched, and the timing of certain events is perhaps questionable. But why bother to pick holes in the plot when the movie is this entertaining? The only thing you would accomplish is sabotaging your enjoyment of a very fun movie. Just suspend disbelief and have a good time. Life is too short to complain about everything.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Commuter. It’s not very original but it’s well-executed, fast-paced, and exciting. It also has a brisk running time of 105 minutes, which is exactly as long as it needs to be. If you like fast-paced thrillers and don’t mind suspending your disbelief, you should have a good time with it.