You know the Oscar movies have all opened when it is time for Liam Neeson to save us all from some dire consequences. This time it all takes place on a train, but rest assured this 65-year-old action star doesn’t look like he is signing up for Social Security anytime soon. He’s still very capable of kicking ass just when it needs to be kicked.
In The Commuter, Neeson plays Michael McCauley, an ex-cop (of course) who has spent the past decade as an insurance salesman. He leaves his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and kids every day to take the train to his job, but unbeknownst to them he has just been laid off. Trouble starts on one of those train trips when a mystery woman (Vera Farmiga) sits down and starts chatting with him innocently enough. Before he knows it though, she is offering him the opportunity to make $100,000 for tagging and identifying a person of interest who is somewhere on that train. She disappears and at first he’s skeptical, but certain things she has told him are quickly proven to be true, and suddenly he is thrust into an increasingly dangerous situation, though one he can’t quite understand. The setup for the film is positively Hitchcockian, kind of reminiscent of Hitch’s 1959 classic North By Northwest in which Cary Grant also finds himself in strange circumstances that threaten to consume him.
This is all understandable when you discover the director is Spain’s Jaume Collet-Serra who is a self-professed Hitchcock afficionado and knows how to pull this off, at least to a degree. He also knows how to use Neeson well as they previously collaborated on Unknown (in which Neeson loses his identity and must regain it), as well as Non-Stop (which found our hero trying to save a plane full of passengers). Planes, trains, automobiles — it really doesn’t matter where you place him, you just know this steady-as-they-go actor is capable of getting to the heart of the action and the mystery, in this case shaped by a trio of screenwriters Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle. After the initial scene, Farmiga’s role is basically voice-over as she becomes far more intense than the initial encounter might have indicated.
The Commuter is not on the high level of Hitchcock’s best, but for a good portion of its running time it makes a game try until falling prey to all the usual action tropes in this type of programmer. Neeson gets into lots of fights, imminent danger, and lots of running through, in, and out of the train as the puzzle begins to reveal itself and he runs through his list of suspects. In some ways it has the flavor of a contemporary Murder on the Orient Express. I said in some ways. Don’t get too excited. This is forgettable January entertainment, but not bad in the scheme of films Neeson usually turns out this time of year including, as I say in my video review above, all three Taken movies, Run All Night and others he gets the big paycheck for.
The supporting cast in addition to Farmiga includes Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill, and these veteran actors do what they can with one-dimensional parts. This is Neeson’s show all the way. Lionsgate releases it today.
Do you plan to see The Commuter? Let us know what you think.