Liam Neeson embarks on his newest journey as The Commuter: an “action-packed” thriller where moral choice and big conspiracies are set to throw the lives of several people unlucky enough to be sharing a train into turmoil. Selected by a mysterious stranger, Neeson’s goal is to identify a wanted fugitive by knowing only which stop they are travelling to.
The trailers push the film as another generic Neeson-action flick. One more to be milked from the cash cow that has been paying the Irishman’s mortgage since the success of Taken 10 years ago. Remember when Liam Neeson played the biggest characters from both fiction and real life? Micheal Collins? Oskar Schindler? Qui Gon Jin? Zeus? Aslan? Bloody Aslan!
What happened Liam?
The Commuter starts off with Neeson playing the complete opposite of Aslan. He’s just a normal guy with a normal life, which is a nice change. This new character of Michael MacCauley has none of the absurd skills Neeson characters often have, pitting him as the everyman, complete with boring job and tons of debt that we can all relate to. Of course, we soon learn that MacCauley is actually an ex-cop, immediately losing that vulnerability and interest. That being said, anyone concerned or even hoping that this film might be Taken on a train, it’s not.
Very disappointingly, the script suffers from lazy writing and plot holes big enough to drive the titular commuter train through. It tries to do some interesting visual storytelling at the beginning, using jump cuts and flash-forwards to show the mundane routine of Macauleys commute. Utilising various seasons and character interactions, the filmmakers introduce us to the Neeson’s role and establish the fact that he’s been doing this commute for a long time. This effect of using fast-paced visual editing to show and not tell is immediately made meaningless by a very exposition heavy scene where the main character literally tells his entire life story to someone.
This intro is also the only time we see MacCauley’s family. This is definitely not enough screen time as their safety is the main motive for Neeson’s character doing what he does. By the time they got into real danger, we had completely forgotten what they even look like. This possibly wasn’t helped by the slow pace of the first act, an act that literally put THG’s Ryan to sleep in the cinema.
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Liam himself isn’t much better as a character. He basically plays himself, an old Irish immigrant in New York. The one difference is that the character is in fact 5 years younger than real life Neeson, despite constantly moaning about how old and useless he is. He explicitly says he is 60 years old four separate times. This is done to show his desperation and motives, but what it is actually doing is making you feel sorry for an old man getting beaten up by men half his age. Perhaps it is also supposed to inspire pure awe when he manages to leap from one carriage to another in what is the dullest slow-motion jump ever committed to celluloid.
Who thought an old man going home from work would make a good action film?
The movie tries to be quite intelligent but ends up falling flat on its face. Several references to modern American literature are somehow jammed in and everyone always has something to say about Steinbeck. There are also homages (more like insults) to great films like a Murder on the Orient Express-style scene where Macauley gets all of the passengers into one train carriage and tries to determine who the person he is searching for is. Instead of being subtle and clever, what he does is basically ask the group who the bad guy is. Then towards the end of the film (SPOILERS), there is a cringe-worthy I-am-Spartacus-esque catastrophe when every character admits to being the wanted person.
Spartacus won a Golden Globe for Best Movie. You are not Spartacus.
Unfortunately, we have nothing good to say about The Commuter. We went in with low expectations and were still shocked. It is a ham-fisted film that doesn’t stand up to the smallest bit of scrutiny. You’ll need a lot of suspension of disbelief to get through this one. We love Liam Neeson but wish he would leave these kinds of quick action crowd pleasers and go back to focusing on story and character.