Movie Review: The Commuter
The Commuter opens with a montage of protagonist, Michael McCauley’s (Liam Neeson) daily familial rituals and commute routines. The familial rituals introduce us to his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and college-bound son (Dean Charles-Chapman) while the commute routines introduce us to a group of people he has forged a commute relationship of sorts with. The montage essentially works to set the backdrop of the movie’s central plot that lies ahead.
Michael McCauley is a grizzled and grim 60-year old former cop turned life insurance salesman saddled in the twilight of his years with the burden of a son about to head to college and a refinanced mortgage to fund it. As if he did not have enough on his plate to deal with, life shafts him even more as he loses the job he had dedicated the last 10 years to with just 5 years away from retirement.
McCauley is not only Irish but also proud. So, when his wife calls to let him know a cheque had bounced, he doesn’t tell her he just lost his job, and when his old partner (Patrick Wilson) from his cop days offers to help, he spurns it.
When it rains, they say it pours. A weary McCauley has barely settled into his train ride home when a mysterious female passenger (Vera Farmiga) strikes up a conversation with him. She eventually makes him a proposition: find a passenger who does not belong on the train, plant a tracking device on them and get a $100,000 for his efforts. For a teaser, she tells him there is $25,000 hidden in one of the toilets on the train.
Before he can discern whether this was a case of luck of the Irish or a joke from a stranger, she exits the train. Curiosity gets the better of him and when he searches in the toilet, he finds the $25,000. From here on, on a train ride home, McCauley’s train ride from hell commences.
The intrigues, suspense and action sequences that ensue all take place within the confines of the train’s cabins bringing a decidedly claustrophobic feel to it all. Director, Jaume Collet-Serra who had previously directed Neeson in 3 other movies (Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night) knows very well how to use his leading man and does so in this movie.
In the movie, McCauley was billed as 60years old and he looked all of it as portrayed by Neeson who himself is in his 60s. Whilst he was by no means an indestructible and chiseled lean mean fighting machine, he was no pushover either. He could throw down when he had to and despite taking a pummeling, he dished out as good as he got.
This is where Neeson has always been particularly effective since his decade- long career revival as an action movie star. He imbues his near-geriatric characters with the vulnerability their age requires and the kind of bad-assery their special abilities dictate they must have. In the end, he is able to achieve the kind of believability that rescues their dare-devilry and combat abilities from descending into movie farce.
In The Commuter, the fight scenes were intense and brutally in-your-face. Shooting the fight scenes within the confines of the train cabins made them visceral and highly suspenseful. There was almost a vicarious surreality for the audience given how intensely close quartered the fight scenes were. Even more visceral in its sheer violent intensity was the final train crash. The deafening sound effect of the crash left your heart pounding as though you were one of the passengers in the crashing train.
Ever since his career received a revival from the success of 2008’s Taken, Neeson’s movies post-Taken have also suffered the curse of the revival wrought by the success of Taken.
As the poster boy of this century’s action movie geriatric bad-ass hero, in virtually all his movies post-Taken, he has been pretty much typecast as a one dimensional lone-wolf bad-ass with a particularly effective set of skills who will go to any length to protect himself and his family.
The Commuter really is no different from every Liam Neeson movie since Taken and the sequels it spawned. From the moment you are strapped into the seat, The Commuter’s train ride takes you on a suspenseful and thrilling ride but not one you haven’t been on before given the familiarity of the Neeson action movie terrain. It’s like the same ride you have had dozens of times before and when you get to your stop, you disembark and forget it because it was not exactly a memorable or spectacular ride even if it was suspenseful and thrilling. 5/10