Since making Taken back in 2008, Liam Neeson has found himself a niche of modestly budgeted yet profitable action films. With The Commuter, it marks Neeson’s fourth time working with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra.
Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is a 60-year-old insurance salesman who’s struggling financially and made worse when he is unfairly fired. On the commute back to home in the suburbs he meets a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him $100,000 in cash if he can find a particular person on the train. By accepting this task Michael puts himself, his family and the passengers at risk to a shadowy organisation.
Since playing Bryan Mills in the Taken trilogy, Neeson has been playing the same role for the past 10 years: an intelligence or law enforcement officer with personal demons and a certain set of skills. This was the case in films like Non-Stop, A Walk Among the Tombstones and Run All Night and in The Commuter Michael is an ex-NYPD detective, spends a lot of time talking on the phone and shows he has a similar skills.
Neeson is a talented actor and no one can begrudge him having a paycheque: but the Northern Irish actor needs to look beyond these films. These roles are so prevalent that it’s easy to joke about doing the same role and he rarely works beyond a commercial film.
The Commuter‘s lack of originality is made worse because the premise is very similar to Non-Stop’s: both films are investigative thrillers on a mode of transport, meaning that there is a limited number of suspects.
In both films, Neeson’s character is taunted on the phone by the mysterious figure – although in The Commuter I was expecting Michael to repeat Bryan Mills’ speech from the first Taken film. Non-Stop and The Commuter even have a femme fatale figure.
The biggest problem with the film is the writing. The set-up is Hitchcockian, something like Strangers on a Train or The Lady Vanish and that was clearly what The Commuter was hoping for. However, The Commuter has big logic holes.
Michael is being controlled and ordered by a shadowy organisation who are able to watch Michael – having people on the train and stations who have the ability to kill anyone they need to. Yet they are unable to find a witness on the train and needed outside help. It’s made even worse when it’s revealed who this organisation really is.
Out of all the directors who have made a Neeson actioneer, Collet-Serra is more of the visually interesting. All his previous films with Neeson are visually distinctive and at least provide some flair to the Neeson action catalogue.
Collet-Serra likes his flashy tricks and with The Commuter he starts the film with an excellent montage showing Michael’s life, his relationship with wife and son and their financial struggles: it compresses a lot of information in a visually engaging way.
The other visual highlight was when Michael had to fight an assassin and it was made to look like an uninterrupted shot: it was an impressive fight sequence and despite Neeson being 65, his height and large frame still making a convincing brawler.
It is during the third act when the bulk of the action happens – although it was also when the film starts using video game psychics. Considering what happened people should have died or at least been seriously hurt.
The Commuter does offer some thrills but it is a mediocre offering from Neeson and Collet-Serra and the pair need to stretch themselves.