Director Jaume Collet-Serra and actor Liam Neeson have now teamed up for four movies, each of them action-thrillers, and none of them worse than mediocre. The last part might sound like faint praise, but statistically speaking at least one of them should’ve been a clunker by now. Maybe, because none of them aim too high, the chance of disaster drops. The only one I think is really solid is Unknown, with the others all falling into the “passable entertainment” category. Which, hey, for thrillers isn’t the worst place you can be. The Commuter is the latest team-up for the duo, and it’s pretty close to what you’d expect.
Neeson plays Michael McAuley, an insurance salesman who used to be a police officer. He’s 60, he has a wife, their son is about to go to college, and he rides the train into the city from the suburbs every day. One day, he gets fired. On the ride home, a woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him. He just has to do “one little thing,” and he’ll get $100,000: find someone on the train who doesn’t belong and put a tracker on their bag. What happens after that won’t impact him in the slightest.
A significant chunk of the movie sees Neeson navigating the various cars of the train, trying to figure out who doesn’t belong, all while looking like he’s a madman—something that does, ultimately, come into play. He doesn’t particularly want to do the job, but it’s made clear pretty early on that he doesn’t have a choice. Obstacles and twists get thrown in his way, all while time starts to run out. After all, his mystery passenger gets off in just a few stops.
It’s fun, and it allows Collet-Serra to do what he does best: hide things for the audiences to find. As we go through Michael’s day prior to the train ride, we see lots of things. Some of them mean nothing; others are clues. And they’re not all in plain sight, either. Some of them you’ll forget about before they matter later on—and then you’ll remember, let out an audible “ohhhhh,” and praise the film, silently, for being cleverer than you are. The best mysteries give you ways to solve them knowing that you won’t be able to. Or, at least, give you the illusion that you had a chance.
The Commuter is a fun action-thriller that works for the majority of its running time and has a solid mystery at its core.
There isn’t a ton of action in this “action-thriller,” but there is some. The best of it comes in a fight between two people that either was shot in one take or has been edited to look like it was. It’s brutal and effective, as are any other physical confrontations. This isn’t Taken Neeson, after all; he’s a retired cop who’s been out of the game for at least a decade. And he’s 60, a fact the movie repeats at least a trio of times. He’s competent but not much better than the average man.
That might make him more interesting, overall. We wouldn’t have much doubt that Taken Neeson could figure out the mystery and probably infiltrate and take down whichever organization set him up in the first place. And he’d do it without breaking a sweat. Here, he’s desperate, not always in control, somewhat vulnerable, and only slightly more equipped for the situation than you or I. There’s a catharsis in watching a super person deal with things, but it’s more thrilling to watch someone whom we suspect could fail.
Liam Neeson, of course, is a lot of fun to watch in this sort of role. He does it really well, probably because he’s a great actor. He’s sometimes wasted in these action-centric roles, but since most of this movie is talking and panic-walking, he’s put to better use. The supporting cast is used sparingly, only sometimes coming into focus when they become a potential suspect. Vera Farmiga only actually shows up on the screen a couple of times; she’s a voice on a phone for most of the proceedings. Of the other notable actors, Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill are probably the two biggest names; they, too, only show up for a couple of scenes.
It gets a little ridiculous in its final few scenes, but The Commuter is a fun action-thriller that works for the majority of its running time and has a solid mystery at its core. It’s got some twists, some fun obstacles, and a very game Liam Neeson on its side, and it turns out you don’t really need a whole lot more than that.
Conclusion: The Commuter is another fun—if slight, action-thriller from Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson.
Recommendation: It’s fun enough to be worth checking out.