The Commuter (2018) REVIEW - A Forgettable January Thriller

Lawrence Kim
January 13, 2018

I have to let you in on a little secret: if I'm home alone, have no work hanging over my head, all the shows I'm now watching are caught up, there's nothing I have to watch for work and no Okjas or other zeitgeist-y things I feel I have to watch, I'm gonna turn towards Liam Neeson... or Nicolas Cage.

In 2014, Jaume Collet-Serra directed "Non-Stop", a Liam Neeson thriller that saw the down-on-his-luck Irishman with a particular set of skills trapped on a speeding vehicle with a killer, a mystery, and an outside force looking to pin some wrongdoing on him. You buy Michael as a guy on the ropes who might consider doing a bad thing if it means survival for his family. Collet-Serra and his production team take advantage of the film's enclosed setting to stage The Commuter's close quarter fight scenes in a way that makes it believable enough (for the film's purposes) that Neeson's cop turned insurance agent wouldn't be completely overwhelmed by his opponents.

How bad is this thing? "I think, you know, with the success of all these TV shows, these Agatha Christie murder thrillers and stuff, I think audiences really like to know: 'Is it him?" And rarely has breakaway glass been so obviously ... well, breakaway glass. He doesn't mess with sci-fi stuff, or anything involving fantastical elements - he leaves that kind of thing to Tom Cruise - his action films have been grounded in the day-to-day, which makes this, er, vehicle more or less in ideal keeping with his branding: Michael (Neeson), a long retired ex-cop turned insurance agent, on the day he is laid off, gets propositioned to make $100K by a stranger who calls herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga) on his regular commuter train just to identify a mysterious passenger on the train and insert a Global Positioning System responder in that passenger's bag.

What's most tiresome about The Commuter isn't actually how derivative and familiar it is.

How many times do we have to see this movie? But few have the inherent decency that Neeson brings to his roles, and Collet-Serra makes the most of it here.

And then one evening, it all unravels.

On the day he's laid off from his job, he's approached by a stranger (Vera Farmiga) who makes him a mysterious offer: identify the rider on the train named "Prynne" and slip a Global Positioning System on their person, and collect $100,000 for his efforts.

By the time he regrets accepting the assignment, Michael's suburban family is being threatened by thugs, and he's forced to rely on his own resourcefulness to spare his own life and those of his fellow passengers. As the story gets more embroiled, it becomes less coherent and amusing, climaxing as it does with a massive train derailment, a hostage situation, and a final bit of flimflammery that's truly just nonsensical. McCauley, an ex-cop, has a special set of skills that make him ideal for finding the passenger. Just another day on the Hudson north. In one moment at the Tarrytown drop-off, Michael and his wife laugh congenially; in the next, they weep and argue.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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