Jacob Richardson | 1/02/2018
Lumbering and slow-moving, much like a Taken 3-era Liam Neeson, The Commuter isn’t here to defy your expectations. But, surprisingly, and even if just a little bit, it does.
Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is a former police officer who is fired from his job as an insurance salesman after ten years. He hops a train back home, the same one he’s caught pretty much every day for that decade, but this time a strange woman sits across from him. Her name’s Joanna (Vera Farmiga), and she brings up a hypothetical game; would he find someone on the train who doesn’t belong in return for $100,000? Michael dismisses it as fantasy, and she leaves, but when $25,000 turns up where she said it would be, and everyone he goes to for help mysteriously dies, Michael realises that they have got him trapped in a horrific game, and the only way out is to find the mysterious stranger who doesn’t belong before it’s too late.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night, The Commuter feels somewhere between a knock-off of older, better ideas and a new, inventive interpreation of them. There’s a definite Non-Stop comparison, given the similar ideas of Neeson’s character being blackmailed by phone to take a transportation method full of passengers hostage, but there’s also plenty here that feels fresh.
Collet-Serra utilises the confinement of the train carriage to much greater effect here than in any of those previous outings, keeping action scenes tight, taut and full of innovation. Which is likely a smart move, given Neeson’s advancing age. Here, he can really let loose because these scenes don’t seem so physically taxing - it’s more a gruelling slug using every piece of chair, table, window and rail that the train offers.
Neeson, to his credit, does a spectacular job with the material. He has been on record saying this is his last action film, and it seems like that gave him a definite boost in his performance. Anyone still paining from the lacklustre appearance in Taken 3 has naught to fear; Neeson brings his A-grade action game back.
Unfortunately, it’s in a vehicle that is destined for disaster. The action scenes are shot so kinetically it’s difficult to make out what is going on, and the camera whips and pans through the fist fights in such a CGI-assisted way that it draws you out of the film. Coupled with the interminable string of cameos from great actors getting little to do (Sam Neill, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks), it becomes one of those dreaded films where you can see potential, but a director who can’t take the wheel to guide it there.
The Commuter is as bland as your daily commute.