Liam Neeson returns in what I previously read was to be the last of his series action/thriller movies that began with Taken. The Commuter might as well be Taken on a train. With a lesser script.
Liam Neeson is ex-cop Michael MacCauley, who, while riding the train home one day, is approached by a mysterious woman who entangles him in a criminal conspiracy.
This woman, played by Vera Farmiga, presents a so-called “hypothetical” choice to MacCauley: for $ 100, 000, would you find a person on this train for her that doesn’t belong?
MacCauley, who after leaving the force became a life insurance agent so he and his wife could get life back on track and have a home and send their college age son to university, loses that insurance job. So, here is the set up of motive for MacCauley to find this person. He sure could use that money. And it seems inoccuous enough, right? Just find this person. Well. of COURSE there is so much more to it than that.
Vera Farmiga’s character, Joanne, continues to call MacCauley’s cell phone. She keeps increasing the complexity of what he is required to do, and makes it clear that if he refuses to do it, bad things will happen. Strangely, we are not given any information about who she is, who she works for, why he needs to find this person on the train, or any at all, really.
The problem, for me, is that we start with an interesting premise, and a solid start. At first, I’m on board. I like this idea and where it could go. But as the film progresses, we are expected to simply buy into each increasing level of this premise as it gets more dangerous with less information as to the who’s and the why’s.
I think I get what writers Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi (both first time writers), and Ryan Engle (Non-Stop, Rampage) were trying to do. I think they were trying to keep the film more tightly focused with the events on the train. No need to bog things down with who is pulling the strings, or how this mysterious “they” know everything MacCauley is doing or anything. That’s clearly the theory here, anyway.
Unfortunately, we DO need some of that information to make sense of it. A few ‘whys’ can make all the difference here. So much so that it would go from the typical January dump film it is, to a surprise early year hit. Add that to the moments of complete improbability – holy suspension of disbelief, Batman! – and The Commuter just can’t get past being a forgettable attempt at entertaining many of us.
I suppose if I were really sleepy, or had never seen an action/thriller before, then maybe this would entertain me. But then, even if i were sleepy, a good version of this film would perk me right up and cause me to watch it. As it was, The Commuter was not stimulating. Although, I was entertained in spite of itself by the giant leaps this story took in assuming we would just not care about all the plot holes and the utter defiance of basic physics in a few places. Apparently train cars are impervious to roll-overs. Friction simply doesn’t exist in The Commuter universe.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the end comes as virtually no surprise. What little information is doled out to the audience, we discover that there is sort of someone pulling the puppet strings, and the misdirection provided is what gives away the identity. Weak.
If you are on a plane, or REALLY bored one day and it’s on streaming somewhere, you could find yourself watching The Commuter because you’re a captive audience or too lazy to instigate a change. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother. There are plenty of Oscar possible films to see instead. Two kittenhands for The Commuter. Sorry, Liam Neeson. If this is your last action/thriller, it’s not a good one to go out on.
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie goer, telling you to go see The Shape of Water instead.