Review: Liam Neeson Reaffirms His Action-Star Prowess with 'The Commuter'
The Taken series of movies allowed for Liam Neeson's transition into an action star, an idea that has only been solidified by the once-dramatic actor's collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra. Films like Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night have not only entertained action-craving audiences with high-octane thrills, they've established Neeson's place as one of the go-to action stars of the modern era. The latest movie to come from this filmmaker-actor collaboration, The Commuter, is an action-thriller loaded with that particular brand of Neeson badassery. Despite a clichéd and overexposed narrative that weighs it down, the film delivers precisely what fans of the newfangled, action star expect and ends up being a fun time at the movies. Yes, you will see Liam Neeson punching more than a few unfortunate souls in the face.
Liam Neeson stars as Michael McCauley, a former police officer, now a father making his way in the world and providing for his family now as an insurance salesman. The opening moments of Collet-Serra's film sets up the everyday toils of McCauley's mundane life: getting ready in the morning, taking the train to his job, returning on the same train, and repeating this cycle day after day. That everyday routine gets shaken up courtesy of Michael's company letting him go, the 60-year-old now faced with an overbearing challenge.
It's the afternoon of Michael's employment termination that his everyday routine gets shaken up even more so. On the train ride home, Michael is approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga), who tells him that someone on his train doesn't belong. The woman offers him $100,000 if he is able to figure out who exactly doesn't belong and tag them with a tracer. Naturally, Michael seems reluctant at first, but the newly unemployed, family man, desperate for the quick cash being offered, ultimately gives in. It doesn't help matters that the mysterious woman always has someone watching him, any attempt at subverting her plans resulting in deadly consequences for someone on the train, and she may or may not have had Michael's family kidnapped. It becomes a race against time for the one-time officer of the law to sort out the mystery on the train, save his family from an uncertain fate, and punch a few people in the head for good measure.
As with their previous collaborations, Collet-Serra and Neeson utilize here what works best in this type of film, namely Neeson's action prowess, his certain set of skills on full display. The Commuter doesn't boast an abundance of action, but the director uses his star and the setting in which his character finds himself to the best of his ability. One particular fight on board the confinement of the train is particularly well-shot, Collet-Serra letting it play out in a seemingly endless single shot that amps up the intensity.
The film could have likely worked without all the punching and kicking provided, but then what would be left for The Commuter. The screenplay provided by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle is something of a hodgepodge of been-there-done-that ideas. The film plays out precisely as you expect it to, and the reveals of the mystery offer very little of substance. Much of it is predictable, particularly when it comes to that mystery, and you can't help but wonder how good the film could have been with something a little extra working beyond the surface-level, action beats.
Still, it's hard to deny the suspense delivered when it comes to watching Liam Neeson being a badass. It has come to the point where the star could sleepwalk through thin action films such as this, but his attempt at drama and even emotion adds to the performance even if it seems out of place for the film. The supporting players are also doing commendable work here, chief among them being Farmiga, who effortlessly enhances the mysterious nature of her antagonist character. You still want more from her than what The Commuter provides, but she delivers a noteworthy performance that makes you pine for villainous roles in her future.
Whether we ultimately get that remains to be seen, but we are certainly going to continue seeing Neeson as the hard-edged, action hero he has firmly become. 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. There is no denying the film's screenplay could have been stronger, more streamlined, and the convoluted and clichéd nature of how it all plays out hurts the experience. Still, The Commuter gives fans of B-level entertainment exactly what they want, and it's hard to fault any film that does that. It may not be remembered as fondly as Neeson's more dramatic work, but, as far as action vehicles go, this train keeps its wheels firmly on the tracks.