The Commuter (2018)
There are action movies. There are subsets of action movies such as the martial arts, heroic bloodshed and the “Die Hard on a [insert mode of transport here]”sub-genre. And then there are Liam Neeson action movies which are a unique a form of films in their own right. Because few actors have achieved what Liam Neeson has done. Some actors start their careers stuck in low budget, exploitation films, only to claw their way up the greasy pole until the wow us with a serious performance and effectively re-invent themselves as a quality character actor. Liam Neeson has done the reverse. After making his mark as a serious actor, with an Oscar nomination under his belt, he then took a serious change in direction to become an action movie star in his mid-fifties. In doing so he found himself a completely new audience and proved a star at the box office. It’s a curious yet strangely laudable achievement. This leads us neatly onto The Commuter. It’s Neeson’s swansong to the action genre, as he has subsequently announced that he’s retiring from this type of movie.
Our titular commuter is an insurance manager named Michael McCauley. He rides the train every day to a somewhat perfunctory office job. When Michael is made redundant just as his son is about to apply for colleges, he and his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) face financial ruin. However, he is thrown a potential lifeline when a mysterious woman played by Vera Farmiga, offers him a deal of Faustian proportions. All he has to do is use his skills to identify a passenger on board “who doesn’t belong”, mark them with a tracker and then walk away with a large sum of money in cash. He is given no further details and told not seek them. As she leaves our mystery lady hints that she knows that prior to his career in insurance, that Michael was a cop. However, all is not as it seems and Michael soon learns that’s he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, as his wife has been kidnapped. However, this is a Liam Neeson movie and naturally our hero is not going to capitulate to the bad guys demands. Punching and mayhem ensues, a solid supporting cast are given nothing to do and logic goes out the window. Overall it’s a bit silly. However, it is also incredibly entertaining too.
The Commuter begins with in an impressive opening montage which references the changing seasons and varying weather conditions while travelling to New York City. It’s quite an artsy start to the movie which briefly kindles a fool’s hope that this may be a more complex and cerebral action movie. However, the overly complex set up soon dispels any notions of this. Furthermore, once the tortuous plot has been established, it is quickly jettisoned and as the movie progresses, the narrative contradicts and confuses itself further. However, all of this is mitigated by Mr Neeson punching, hitting and bludgeoning sundry bad guys while wisecracking like a Roger Moore tribute act. In a selfless attempt to mitigate the sheer incredulity of a man of Neeson’s mature years fighting his way through an army of mercenaries, the screenplay features several scenes where he references his own age “ironically”. It’s all like an ultra-violent version of Poirot, whose suffering from existential angst. However, beating someone with an electric guitar proves to be somewhat therapeutic.
The Commuter marks the fourth collaboration between Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra; a curious film maker who seems to have created and filled a niche market in the action genre, somewhere between Tony Scott and Antoine Fuqua. His films, include Neeson’s Unknown (2011), Non-Stop (2014) and Run All Night (2015). The Commuter is an unashamed variation on an established theme. Not only does Collet-Serra plagiarise classic elements of the action genre but he even plunders his own back catalogue. To call The Commuter Hichcockian would be far too generous, possibly even libellous. If you take a moment to step back and logically assess what is happening, you will find yourself wondering how anyone would choose to finance such a preposterous load of arse gravy. Yet, there is a single mitigating factor that defuses any incredulity the viewer may have and absolves them of any guilt they may have for watching. And that is Liam Neeson; a man who punches wolves, is Lion Jesus and fights trains. I don’t know of any actor currently at work in Hollywood who has such public goodwill. So go see The Commuter and rejoice in the high-concept of a sexagenarian action star.