Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Culture | By Stewart Greene

Liam Neeson makes valiant effort to keep 'The Commuter' on the rails

Liam Neeson makes valiant effort to keep 'The Commuter' on the rails

If you're a fan of Neeson's other action films you will enjoy The Commuter.

There's no point in nitpicking a movie like this; it delivers exactly what genre enthusiasts would expect: plentiful tension and violence, with occasional sprinklings of sentiment, writes Kurt Loder in his latest review for Reason.

Neeson plays Michael McCauley, an ex-cop who has spent his last ten years as a life insurance salesman, commuting Monday through Friday into Grand Central from his family's suburban home up the Hudson in Tarrytown, New York.

But Collet-Serra is too interested with swooping his camera through the train to care much about the blur on the outside. That everyday routine gets shaken up courtesy of Michael's company letting him go, the 60-year-old now faced with an overbearing challenge.

On the day he's laid off from his job, he's approached by a stranger (Vera Farmiga) who makes him a mysterious offer: identify the rider on the train named "Prynne" and slip a Global Positioning System on their person, and collect $100,000 for his efforts.

MacCauley's mission, as given to him by Farmiga, is to find someone on the train who "doesn't belong", and can only be identified by the fact that they're getting off at Cold Spring and they're carrying a bag. Naturally, Michael seems reluctant at first, but the newly unemployed, family man, desperate for the quick cash being offered, ultimately gives in. This isn't to say that the humans in The Commuter act anything like real people; the train is the most realistic performer here, but you could do a lot worse. One particular fight on board the confinement of the train is particularly well-shot, Collet-Serra letting it play out in a seemingly endless single shot that amps up the intensity. The screenplay provided by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle is something of a hodgepodge of been-there-done-that ideas. But easy, unsubtle, unabashedly masculine action films don't need nuance as long as they're this much of a goofy pleasure to watch.

Nevertheless, a Liam Neeson movie is a Liam Neeson movie. The supporting players are also doing commendable work here, chief among them being Farmiga, who effortlessly enhances the mysterious nature of her antagonist character.

That's not necessarily a problem in the Collet-Serra Cinematic Universe, but "The Commuter's" breakneck incoherence - not to mention a generally dour demeanor, shorter on incidental humor than most of the helmer's work - makes it a notch less fun than those previous ex-trash-aganzas.

Whether we ultimately get that remains to be seen, but we are certainly going to continue seeing Neeson as the hard-edged, action hero he has firmly become. Sometimes you just want an actor like Neeson to fend off an attacker with an electric guitar. That line might be the most true-to-life element in the whole film.

The action escalates, with Neeson nervously traversing the length of the train enough times to either look like a terrorist himself or someone at extreme risk of deep vein thrombosis.

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