Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Byron Willinger (story by), Philip de Blasi (story by)
Stars: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
“The Commuter” really took me by surprise in how long it would keep me interested. The trailer already showed us that Liam Neeson’s character Michael MacCauley an ex-cop now working in selling insurance is met by stranger Joanna played by Vera Farmiga who offers him a proposition to carry out one task and he could walk away with $100,000 if he succeeds. If he fails, his family will die. Yes, sometimes trailer can annoy me in this sense where they really show you everything. In this case though to sell the movie it was essential to show the good bits.
If not handled well can become stale and uninteresting. Speed managed to do this correctly set on a bus, but unfortunately its sequel was a massive flop, hey Keanu Reeves didn’t even want any part in that one, Under Siege is another example of predominantly being set on a ship which worked even though I’m not the biggest Steven Segal fan. It’s sequel just like “The Commuter” is set on a train but was terribly made and relied on a cardboard cutout villain and what looked like “blue screen central” everywhere.
“The Commuter” manages to keep you enthralled and in the first 15 minutes the ground work is set and one of the reason for that is Liam Neeson’s character Michael MacCauley isn’t the man he used to be. Now 60 years old, he is selling insurance, has two mortgages and is about to send his son to college. Unfortunately for Michael he has been given a severance package and basically he thinks his day can’t get any worse. It’s worth mentioning that we get to see a bit of Michael’s day to day interactions and patterns that he does on a daily basis for the last 10 years. We get to see a bit of interaction with Michael and other commuters which serves the storyline later on.
Dejected and desperate Michael whilst reading a book on his way home to face the music is approached by a lady named Joanna. There is a little back and forth small talk between both characters until the Ex-Cop comes out in Michael and asks bluntly what is it she wants. Joanna, offers Michael a tempting offer to find a commuter on the train or face the consequences. This is how the next 90 minutes plays out on this train with Michael against the clock to figure out who the target is and why this organisation wants this person and what they are carrying.
Now I don’t really want to delve into the reasons for their actions nor do I want to reveal any twists as I am basing this review as a non spoiler to an extent as I enjoyed a few of the reveals. Mostly what I have already said was in the trailer anyway so there is nothing spoiled here. “The Commuter” is a clever written film and the events in the movie will keep you entertained as the story is one big puzzle solver.
Liam Neeson again doesn’t let us down. His character has the tendencies of an honest and moral ex policeman who left all that behind and became an insurance salesman. You can sense a regret in the character on some of his life style choices and career choices and comes across as a man who would do anything for his family. I’m glad they gave the character a little back story in his previous work as the film plays out you understand why he can think the way he does and how to handle intense situations. Neeson despite being a “serious” actor in his younger days made the transition to action star way back in his “Taken” days, heck go further back to his “Jedi” days in The Phantom Menace (1999) unlike the Bryan Mills character from the former, MacCauley is flawed. He doesn’t have the confidence within himself to be able to conquer his insecurities or be be decisive as perhaps he once was.
Vera Farmiga is terrific in her limited screen time. As the supposed villain of the movie I think I can say that its more the people she works for that are the bigger villains but nonetheless delvers in a cold and calculating way. Joanna from the kick off doesn’t beat around the bush with her intentions. Yes there is a little small talk in there that MacCauley cuts does very quickly, but I sensed she was about to explain what she was doing on that train anyway. Farmiga for the most of the movie is then on the phone and although it makes sense for her to be dictating the situation you couldn’t very well have her presence there and you will realise why in the movies climatic finale.
Patrick Wilson is cop Alex Murphy (not the Robocop one) and is Michael’s ex partner. Murphy comes across as a younger version of MacCauley. He appears to have the same work ethos and moral values of Michael and comes across as a guy who learned a lot from him. Wilson is one of my favourite actors of the past 10 years and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with his screen time. That’s not to say that his presence at any point isn’t impactful. He appears at the films first 15 minutes and we don’t get to see him again until the last 20 minutes or so.
Overall “The Commuter” is a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride and I’m always happy to see Liam Neeson in a successful and entertaining movie. The pacing and direction by Jaume Collet-Serra is great. At no point does the movie slow down, within the first 15 minutes you know and understand the main characters and you get to understand why MacCauley ends up doing what he does. The look of the film and the camera movements within a close proximity on the train works for me, especially during the fight scenes which where brilliantly and realistically executed. Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill and Elizabeth McGovern all play smaller roles than they would normally but add to the weight of the characters. If you haven’t yet watched “The Commuter”