The Commuter movie review: Liam Neeson’s final action movie is a ride you don’t want to miss
Director - Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast - Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Florence Pugh, Sam Neill
Rating - 3.5/5
You know, a lot has been written about some of the biggest director-actor pairs in modern cinema — Johnny Depp-Tim Burton, Leonardo DiCaprio-Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg — but God knows there’s a severe dearth of material written about Liam Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra.
Of course, as compared to those duos, Neeson and Collet-Serra are working on a much, much inferior level; they’ve exclusively stuck to B-movie thrillers, while the others have won Oscars. But in the genre of their choice, they’re pretty unparalleled.
So it’s fitting that for Neeson’s self-declared final film in his surprise streak of late-period action movies, he’d reunite with the man responsible for giving him this new lease of life following the breakout success of Taken.
The Commuter is almost identical — at least in structure — to their previous collaborations — Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night, all varying degrees of good. It’s a film that’s built on a clever premise, executed with absolute efficiency, but (in this case, quite literally) derailed in its final act because of some utterly preposterous writing.
By now, it’s obvious that there’s no point shooting holes in the plots of these movies. You’d only be ruining what is — as much as I detest saying this — were the mind to be slightly dulled, a reasonably enjoyable experience -- although even the slightest display of intelligence will almost certainly dismantle the very tracks upon which The Commuter runs.
It begins with a rather Twilight Zoney set-up: A mysterious woman approaches a daily commuter aboard a train with a proposition. The commuter (Neeson) has never seen her before, and he’s been doing this trip twice a day for 10 years. The woman (Vera Farmiga, reuniting with Collet-Serra for the first time since the glorious horror movie, Orphan) proposes a ‘hypothetical’ scenario to Neeson. She gives him a choice: if he agrees to accept, he’d have to identify one passenger on the train who isn’t supposed to be on it, and he’d receive a $100,000 cash reward. Something will happen to that unidentified passenger, but Neeson’s character would not be made aware of it. His job would be to simply identify the person, and return to his mundane life.
However — and the woman doesn’t tell him this — if he were he to accept the offer and fail, or in any way try and disrupt what has been set in motion, there’d be consequences: His wife and kid would be harmed.
And since Neeson’s character was fired that very day (by the way, has there ever been a more fool-proof way to get the audience on the protagonist’s side than to fire him from his job?), he accepts. Soon, like the characters in Richard Matheson’s near-identical short story, The Box, which was later made into a film by Richard Kelly, Neeson’s character realises that by compromising on his morals, he has been taken hostage by the mysterious woman. He is compelled to fulfil the task, or face the tragic consequences.
Now, I know what you’re thinking (at least, if you’re fans of Neeson’s recent action movies). This sounds an awful lot like Non-Stop, the only difference is that instead of a plane, it’s set on a moving train.
And honestly, to an extent, it really is Non-Stop on a train. Like that movie, it’s a fun little throwback to the locked room mysteries of Agatha Christie (how neat to have another so soon after the wonderful Murder on the Orient Express) and more overtly, the deftly plotted thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock (it leans more towards The Lady Vanishes than Strangers on a Train, though).
In the hands of Collet-Serra, The Commuter is an effortlessly mounted thriller that’s infinitely better than those terrible Taken sequels. For instance, there is one action scene in particular that seems as though it is a direct response to that endlessly memed sequence from Taken 3 in which the visibly old Neeson leaps a fence with the aid of a dozen cuts: it’s an entire fistfight that (with the obvious help of some seamless editing) is made to appear as if it were shot in one long take.
The same goes for the film’s opening credits sequence, in which they relate Neeson’s daily routine with insight and grace uncommon to films such as this. This sort of attention to detail isn’t something you’d ever really demand of movies like The Commuter, but nonetheless, the effort is appreciated.
The Commuter isn’t the blazing swansong every Liam Neeson fan would’ve hoped for — and to be quite honest, with these things, you never know; he might do another action movie sometime in the future. But it has, like it’s central character, a workmanlike demeanour that’s bound to please its fans. There are even brief moments of depth, if you’re into that sort of thing: banks, and the evil they represent, is a recurring motif.
Without spoiling anything, I regret to inform you that as usual, the mystery was ruined for me based only on the casting. If you get the hint, then you understand what a pain this trend is, but if you don’t, lucky you.
Watch the trailer for The Commuter here