Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Script: Byron Willinger & Philip De Blasi
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Andy Nyman, Clara Lago, Roland Moller, Florence Pugh, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neil
Running time: 100 minutes
The Commuter sees our post-Taken favourite older action hero going toe-to-toe with a range of baddies in another confined space after 2014’s Non-Stop (which was set in a plane), and 2012’s Battleship, which was set on a boat. As Liam Neeson says in the extras, next time him and director Collet-Serra are going to make a film that’s mostly set in a car! The director had also worked with Liam Neeson on the under-rated Unknown (2011).
After a nicely done credits sequence, where we see our central character’s daily commute throughout the seasons and years, we’re properly introduced to our hard-working insurance salesman, Michael (Neeson), as he finalises a deal on the phone before being summoned into the boss’s office and being made redundant, effective immediately.
Still in shock, Michael calls his old cop partner, Matt, who he has a drink with at a bar, while winging about his lot of having two mortgages, a teenage son about to go to college, and him being 60 years old with little hope of getting another job and paying for it all. His friend encourages him to get home and tell his wife the truth, so off he plods and gets on the train for his normal commute home. Unfortunately for Michael this won’t be a ‘normal’ commute’ home as he’s rapidly approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farminga, from The Conjuring) who has a peculiar proposal for him. If he can work out who doesn’t belong on the train before its final stop he’ll be rewarded with $100,000. And to ensure that he’s on board, they sweeten the deal by letting him know where he can find the initial deposit of $25,000. Having somewhat conveniently just lost his only source of income he reluctantly agrees, but quickly wishes he hadn’t.
To say any more about the plot would be to spoil it for first-time viewers, so I’ll just stick to critiquing the film in general and not get too detailed with my criticisms of the way the story plays out. Suffice to say, there are a lot of plot contrivances, and just plain daft plot strands that don’t stand up to too much scrutiny. Having said that, I did enjoy The Commuter, if only as a piece of leave-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
While I admire director Jaume Collet-Serra’s obvious desire to make an old-school Hitchcockian thriller, with some modernised action thrown in for good measure, The Commuter unfortunately falls far short of those lofty heights. This is no North by Northwest! However, what it does have going for it is the ever likeable Liam Neeson playing more of an average Joe here, although somewhat fortuitously his police skills do come in useful later on as the plot thickens and his need to kick-ass increases.
Neeson is supported by a capable supporting cast, including the ever-reliable Sam Neil (Jurassic Park, At the Mouths of Madness, Dead Calm), who is seriously under-used here, rising star Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth), Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), and Patrick Wilson (from TVs Fargo).
The film is generally well-shot and the director makes the most of the confined spaces to help bring out the drama of the situation and to add ‘colour’ to the fight sequences. However, I was disappointed by some of the visual effects shots of the train and later a train crash; it was sub-par for this level of budgeted film. But, on a more positive note, the fights and stunts were pretty good apart from some overly CGI-ed sequences which were laughable. Alas, as filmmakers begin to rely too heavily on ‘fixing things in post-production’ it has a knock-on effect by removing a certain level of frission and danger from action films, elements that were there in abundance during the genre’s heyday of the 1980s.
The Commuter frequently hops between being a bit of an overly contrived mess, with some cringe-worthy moments (check out the ‘I am Sparticus’ moment) and a fun Friday night film complete with cheesy one liners like: ‘Next time I’m taking the bus!’ It has some rather classy final credits though – I really liked the use of a train line map to link all the names together.
To summarise I felt that The Commuter demonstrates a very eighties’ high concept ideology, but with a frustratingly daft execution.
Studiocanal are distributing The Commuter on DVD and Blu-ray. Special features include:
Interview with Liam Neeson (4 mins) – A short and sweet interview where we learn that Liam had already worked with the director on Unknown, just one of 72 previous films the prolific actor has done. It was also good to hear that no one was hurt during the fight scenes, probably because they’d rehearsed them so many times before shooting them.
Making of (1.42 mins) – basically an electronic press kit for the film.
Trailers for other Studiocanal released films including: You were never really here; Yardie; and Journeyman.