'The Commuter' - Liam Neeson continues to use his 'special set of skills'
'The Commuter' - Liam Neeson continues to use his 'special set of skills'
Liam Neeson and Vera Farmiga in “The Commuter.”
13 January, 2018, 07:48
Liam Neeson has built his late career around being your dad, or rather, the power fantasy that your dad wishes he were. I was that person sitting next to you. If you're only a casual viewer of either Neeson's action movies or action movies in general, there should be a few solid surprises throughout. What has followed has been a decade of lean, blunt and glum thrillers (three "Taken" movies, "Non-Stop", "The Grey") anchored by the looming and still quite potent presence of Neeson. You also get to see the 65-year-old actor leap between train cars and badass his way through explosions, which are just the kinds of viscerally thrilling exploits you'd expect from Jaume Collet-Serra, director of The Shallows and Run All Night. 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". Although he started in horror, Collet-Serra has found a groove with highly efficient, extremely effective thrillers.
Long before the train at the center of "The Commuter" physically derails, its storyline and plausibility sputter out of control.
Five years from retirement, life insurance salesman and former cop Michael (Neeson) has just been laid off, and is given an extension of his health benefits in place of a tangible severance package. The movie's clever overlapping opening montage shows the repetition of his days, begun every day with 1010 Wins on the radio, a ride from his wife to the train station and the crowded but solitary walk through Grand Central. With his savings depleted by the 2008 financial crisis and college tuition coming soon for his high-school graduate son, McCauley's panic is palpable. If he can locate a specific passenger with a mysterious bag somewhere on the train and plant a Global Positioning System on her/him, for reasons she won't reveal but that surely involve murder, then he gets $100,000 for his finder's fee.
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As he seats himself on the train home, however, he is propositioned by a woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who sits opposite him: find a certain passenger on the train, put a Global Positioning System tracker on that person, and MacCauley can collect $100,000, with a $25,000 down payment already stashed in a lavatory on the train.
Via phone calls and very visible string pulling, Joanna convinces him the people she represents are not to be trifled with and he should do this if only in the interest in keeping his family safe. The gaps in the story's logic aren't to be minded. But then again, even the Feds deserve a bit of antiquing and a brisk hike. So, he goes through the train, trying to figure out who he is supposed to be targeting. But he knows well how to shoot Neeson, following the actor's hulking frame from vehicle to auto. 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. The Commuter is a film that knows precisely which side of the bread its butter is on, and, as a Neeson-led actioner, it delivers in abundance. With pandering references to the big banks throughout, "The Commuter", has just enough smarts to make its final destination disappointing. In other words, the plotting is simple and contrived, but it mostly serves as a shell in which to frame some over-the-top train-based action beats, so if that's what you've signed up to see, you're most definitely in luck.
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