'The Commuter' - Liam Neeson continues to use his 'special set of skills'

Joann Johnston
January 13, 2018

It never quite manages to coalesce - none of the overt morals of the film do - in part because the movie is ultimately so singularly about Neeson kicking ass and taking names (and briefly being schooled on the Brontë sisters by an understated Jonathan Banks) that there's no space for anything else. But when someone threatens his family, he busts out his dormant combat skills and survival instincts, and unleashes them upon waves of conspirators that make very poor victim selection decisions.

There has, thus far, been a pleasing interchangeability to the titles in the banging, clattering action oeuvre cultivated by Liam Neeson and Spanish genre maestro Jaume Collet-Serra. They live in Westchester now, eking out a decent (if boring) middle class existence; their son has elected to go to Syracuse, which is expensive, but they'll figure out a way to make the payments, because they always do, right?

MacCauley is an ex-cop who sells life insurance and commutes on the Metro-North line from Westchester County New York into Manhattan. He knows everyone on the train, which is one of the reasons why he's the ideal target for manipulation. (You get the idea that this is how Neeson lives his life, too, pretending he's merely a down-to-earth type and not at all a grizzled badass.) Then one day he's unceremoniously let go by his employer, and after catching a beer with his old pal from the force, he gets on the train home and gets caught in the web of a woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga). That's the other reason he's so vulnerable to the scam.

Joanna, flirty at first and menacing not long after, challenges him to find an unknown passenger on the train-a stranger on the train, you might say-and slap a Global Positioning System locator on their bag before they pull into the last stop on the line. "That money is yours if you do this one little thing", she says. If Heath Ledger didn't change everything as The Joker, we'd be calling Neeson's Ra's al Ghul one of the best supervillains of all time.

'The Commuter' - Liam Neeson continues to use his 'special set of skills'

But Collet-Serra, whose "Non-Stop" similarly relished the confined space of an airplane cabin, is too interested with swooping his camera through the train to care much about the blur on the outside. As mentioned, Michael has to find someone with a shady bag, a task that leads to a lot of misunderstandings and some violent encounters.

Liam Neeson is going off the rails. He is starting to look his age, which sort of makes the movie more believable in a way at first, because it's clear that this guy is rusty. It has to defy physics.

"The Commuter" may be set on the way home after a long, hard day at the office, but this movie feels less like happy hour than work - and uncompensated overtime at that. McCauley is fired five years short of retirement. What could have been a fun whodunnit quickly devolves into Neeson just running up and down the train (over and over again) playing hero. But that's not to deny the transient pleasures of "The Commuter", a film that enthusiastically puts the humble passenger auto through nearly as many mechanical acrobatics as any "Fast and Furious" hot rod, in the process gifting us with the line, "Between the train and the people, I always knew it would be the train". Joe Carnahan's film is a frigid assault on your senses, and the enormous lines on Neeson's face are a stark reminder of his character's slow march towards death. Check your brain at the door and have a great time at this one.

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