When a person heads in to see a Liam Neeson movie, they almost always know what to expect. Outside of rare dark turns (see The Grey), most fans know that they will get a high-octane action movie with a 65-year-old actor involved in action scenes that were at one time the realm of 20-year-old superstars. They can also expect Neeson to play a good man put in an impossible situation. That is what The Commuter delivers to fans.
There has been a lot of comparison between this movie and the 2014 Liam Neeson action movie Non-Stop. Both movies star Neeson as a man thrown into action. Both films take place on a public transport system with innocent passengers caught in the crossfire (Non-Stop was a plane, and The Commuter is a train). Director Jaume Collet-Serra helms both movies.
The comparisons are accurate, but there is another movie that this seems very similar to – the Tony Scott movie The Taking of Pelham 123 (read my review of that film here). As with many of the late Tony Scott’s films, there was a visual dynamic that almost overtook the story of a dispatcher dealing with a man who took a subway train hostage.
The Commuter also has a very impressive visual dynamic, but thankfully it never overshadows the actual story and works well with the themes in the plot.
When The Commuter starts, Collet-Serra pulls off a fantastic editing trick because, unlike Scott’s penchant to show off with his editing, this was important to the story. Neeson is Michael MacCauley, an insurance salesman with a wife and a son about to start college. The opening shows him getting ready for work, speaking to his wife and son, boarding the train he has taken every day for the last ten years, and going to work.
However, the opening takes place over months, if not years. It cuts from one specific time frame to another, showing how every day is the same, with just minor differences based on the moods of Michael and his family. It shows that these ten years have been nothing but a habit of nature for Michael.
This idea is important for two reasons. The first is that Michael is about to lose his job due to a change in the company structure. He is told he will not get financial severance pay, but instead insurance as his severance package. With his son about to start college and Michael a 60-year-old man, things have changed at just the wrong time.
The second reason it is important is that a woman he meets on the train after work named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offers him $100,000 to identify a person on the train that does not belong there. The fact that Michael has taken the train for the last ten years makes him the perfect person for the job. It also helps that he is a former police officer, so he has an instinct for seeing things out of the norm.
As with the best Liam Neeson action movies, there is a ticking clock. Michael has to find the person and identify them before they reach their stop, which gives him only minimal time. If he does it, he gets the $100,000, but the person will die. If he refuses or fails, his wife and son will die.
There is little here in the way of surprises. There are clues in the movie that key us in on who the person is that he has to identify, and the film plays the mystery fair. There is also a twist in the story that shows that not everything is as it seems. While that is a plot device in this type of movie, people going in understanding the structure will realize who can and can’t be trusted long before that reveal.
However, as mentioned earlier in the review, people going into a Liam Neeson movie know what to expect. If that is the movie a person wants to see, The Commuter is a lot of fun. There is a suspension of disbelief needed for many things that happen, but nothing that hurts enjoying the movie for what it is.
The acting and cast are excellent throughout. Everyone has a role to play, and everyone plays their parts well. The action is nuts, and unlike The Taking of Pelham 123, it does not overshadow the story itself. Even the ending is a perfect little bow that leaves the viewer with a smile on their face.
The Commuter isn’t a groundbreaking movie. The film won’t win any awards. It is a movie for people who just want to see something fun at the theater. For those people, The Commuter is well worth the commute.