Genre: Action and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: January 12th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Actors: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Killian Scott, Clara Lago, Florence Pugh, Ella-Rae Smith
fter ten long years at Union Capital Insurance, hard-working salesman and family man Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is let go. With two mortgages on his house and tuition due for his son’s college, MacCauley finds himself unsure of how to break the news to his wife, Karen (Elizabeth McGovern). On his regular train commute home, he’s approached by a mysterious woman, calling herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga), with an intriguing proposition. He will receive $100,000 to locate a passenger named Prynne before the train’s final stop – and place a tracking device on this person. A simple task for him, but an unknown fate for the target. Initially skeptical of the preposterous assignment’s legitimacy, MacCauley soon discovers the deadly serious nature of the endeavor when he receives the money and learns of the dire consequences of not completing it. Now, with time quickly running out, the desperate commuter must sift through the numerous suspicious passengers to uncover his mark before he loses everything he holds dear.
The opening title sequence – full of rapid cuts – is a touch disorienting, though it gives a quick introduction into the life of MacCauley, who seems tired but never exasperated by the mundanity of routines. Ups and downs always manage to turn out all right, largely due to his supportive wife and an unusually positive relationship with his son. Into this practiced, established, predictable existence comes a series of disruptions (including an annoying shaky cam), as if part of the not-so-hypothetical situation at the heart of the story. Instant psychological upheaval and spontaneous sources of desperation can lead ordinary people to do anything – or so believe the crooks behind the scheming. Michael, however, is one of those rare good guys who can’t be manipulated into doing terrible things.
“It’s a corrupt world, my friend. No sense in being the little guy.” The setup is ideal for a terrorist plot or a hijacking, so it’s not a surprise when Michael’s mission begins to resemble countless other projects – including those that don’t have anything to do with a speeding bullet train. Obvious comparisons would be “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Runaway Train,” “Unstoppable,” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”; but there are also similarities to “Executive Decision,” “Source Code,” “Speed,” “Flightplan,” and “Non-Stop.” The list of films from which “The Commuter” borrows is too lengthy to elaborate upon, but its entertainment value doesn’t bank solely on the mystery (or lack thereof) at hand. Instead, it relies on its primary dependable component: Liam Neeson.
Despite an implausible collaboration of outside forces that enables the game to proceed (if the conspirators are so powerful, why wouldn’t they just blow up the whole train?), Neeson remains thoroughly engaging, capably bringing the audience into his frantic scenario of heedlessness and abandon. The convenient loss of phone signals, red herrings, switched seats, and unlikely altercations are easy enough to ignore when Neeson stays so grounded and quick-thinking. It’s not long, however, before he engages in a few too many fistfights, resulting in superhero quantities of absorbing blows to the face. He readily admits to being 60 years old, but that never hinders his ability to recover, almost immediately, from having his head slammed into a handrail. By the third act, he’s virtually invincible, participating in outrageous stunts and CG-soaked derailments. If “The Commuter” had retained its calmer sense of realism at the start, it could have been more satisfying to get to the bottom of the politically influential confederacy and Joanna’s involvement in its machinations – but the film insists upon transforming into a high-octane actioner that dispenses with all rationality. And the nod to (or rip-off of) “Spartacus” takes the outrageousness several steps too far.
– The Massie Twins