The Commuter is the fourth collaboration between Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra. The other films being Run All Night, Unknown, Non-Stop and all of them were actually not bad at all. They have their place as being known for escapist entertainment. In The Commuter, Liam Neeson plays, Mike MacCauley, a retired police officer who has decided to sell life insurance. For the past ten years, he has done this and made a good living at it, too. That is until he is laid off and sent home. On the train ride home, he is approached by a mysterious woman who calls herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga). She offers him a hundred thousand dollars to “find someone on this train who does not belong here and point them out to us.” That is all.
Well, of course, that is not all. These films start out with a simple premise but you know that by film’s end, it is anything but simple. Michael accepts the job and sets about finding the person. What follows is a slick thriller in a confined space with Liam Neeson not simply phoning his performance in. Rather, he elevates this routine material and gives it weight. There is a real crisis of conscience that Michael has. He knows whoever he marks is dead but he has just been laid off and needs the money. Neeson does a good job of relaying that feeling of hopelessness to the audience. I could see the conundrum, understand his logic and was interested in how Michael was going to get himself out of this ordeal.
Is this to say, The Commuter is a great film? No. But I must say there were several scenes that were quite intense and with Neeson selling the material, The Commuter works, for the most part. That is not to say there are not elements of predictability and in fact, I had picked who the killer was going to be with about thirty minutes left in the film. It did not matter to me, I was still into this film. I could say the supporting cast does do what they are required to do, but that is about all. Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neil are in this film but their entire screen time is mere minutes. This is Neeson doing what he does so well.
I enjoyed the opening sequence which through editing and some smart directing that established Michael as a creature of habit. It is able to tell the story of his past ten years traveling on the same train as the seasons change and are melded together to show the passage of time. It takes only a couple of minutes and we understand what has been going on. I also enjoyed Roque Banos score which is both beautiful and packs some punch, too. I love the fact that, as in the case with Non-Stop, most of the action is in a confined space with lots of tightly shot action scenes. Neeson at 65, still is in terrific shape and does well with the fight scenes.
As I said, The Commuter is far from perfect. It tips its hand a little too early and some of the visual effects are a bit too easy to spot. This is all material that we have seen done over and over, time and time again. I mean the premise is sort of silly but Neeson gives it credence and was able to sell me on the direness of the situation. I cared about the characters and wondered how it was going to tie everything together. Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction seems to know what moments to linger on and what moments to keep the pacing going. The script is thoughtful enough to know we have seen these types of films before but still manages to be smart enough to keep it interesting. With a film like The Commuter, you could do far worse for a night at the movies.
The Commuter – ***1/2 out of 5
The Commuter – Rated PG-13 for violence, some gore and language
The Commuter – Runtime is 105 minutes
The Commuter is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.