The Commuter (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Despite making some of the most empty-headed action movies the last few years, there is still an audience who loves watching Liam Neeson fight bad guys.
The premise, admittedly, is an intriguing one. Or, well, intriguing enough for a movie pitch.
The Commuter is never boring, Neeson, the ensemble supporting cast, and a few cleverly staged sequences on that evening train keep us paying attention.
The final act. As dumb as a box of hammers, The Commuter seems to have no idea of what story it is telling from one second to the next in the pivotal moments of the film.
The one-take fight scenes. And while we begin to celebrate Neeson making those one-take fight scenes for The Commuter, the fights are so poorly CGI'd and altered in the editing bay to cover for Neeson's deficiencies, we end up laughing at them, instead of being compelled and curious how things turn out.
Spare me your thinkpieces. There is nothing worth probing here of any meaningful significance whatsoever.
I suppose The Commuter would work well as an old episode of the Rod Serling-era "The Twliight Zone." In his latest action-slash-suspense-thriller, Liam Neeson stars as Michael McCauley, a husband and a father who receives distressing news at work, and then, on his train commute home, is confronted by a strange woman (Vera Farmiga).
Identifying herself as a behavioral researcher, the woman, Joanna, provides Michael with an offer. She informs him that a passenger on the train doesn't belong. The name of Prynne will be significant to them and they have something that they are not permitted to have. Recover the item and $100,000 will be his. Fail? Michael later learns that, in fact, his family may very well be killed.
And so it begins. Reeling from being fired earlier in the day from his insurance sales job, with a college payment due and owning for his son, the idea is tantalizing. He discovers seed money of $25,000 to prove the job is legitimate, but the stakes become instantly raised. Joanna's voice, through an omniscient set of phone calls, is urgent, menacing, and intense. Michael has no recourse but to keep searching, looking, and uncovering the mystery of Prynne and trying to save his family.
So, yes, thrillseekers, this could arguably be dubbed Taken 4. However, director Jaume Collet-Serra, in his fourth collaboration with Neeson (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night), does what he can to try and make this film feel distinct and separate from Neeson's other action films.
And it works for a bit. The screenplay by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle (three screenwriters, really?) mines every nook and cranny of the train where lives will forever be changed. We survey the train cars and the camera leers at fellow passengers like Michael would. As people stare at him, they stare back at us, and after Joanna departs the train, leaving him to wrestle with a most bizarre encounter and proposal, everyone's true identity seems to be in doubt.
Neeson's steely resolve gives way to more desperate survival techniques. Things seem hopeless, but this is Liam [expletive deleted] Neeson we are talking about here. He can do anything!
To my surprise, I can admit that The Commuter holds together far longer than I thought it could, straddling the line between B-movie cheese and a passable cable-TV-style suspense/thriller.
Unfortunately, the script calls for Neeson to get physical and Collet-Saura's approach is to showcase the 65-year-old actor's fighting ability in fairly lengthy "single-take" brawling scenes with passengers who don't take to kindly to his being so chatty and inquisitive.
Yeah. Around about this point, The Commuter runs out of gas.
As he systematically breaks down the who-what-when-where-why and how with the remaining passengers, we cut corners and are no longer actively working through the story with Michael. He just starts figuring stuff out. And once the actual mystery of the mystery is removed, The Commuter becomes a silly, trifling movie that goes (ahem) off the rails.
By the end, Michael's challenge from Joanna makes zero sense, he alternates between hero and villain, he has told us he's "60 years old" multiple times, and every single police officer, S.W.A.T. team member, and local law enforcement officer within some ungodly radius appears to have descended upon the train as if a nuclear bomb or a terrorist was on board.
Look, I get it. It's January. Historically, major studio movies released this month are often pretty poor. And that's why The Commuter is frustrating. There is a decent half of a good movie here, making the calamitous fall of the second half a huge letdown.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill, Dean-Charles Chapman, Florence Pugh, Clara Lago, Ella-Rae Smith, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Killian Scott, Letitia Wright, Roland Møller.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle (screenplay); Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi (story)
Release Date: January 12, 2018