Liam Neeson just can’t seem to quit action movies. He’s repeatedly talked of retiring from the genre (“I’m sixty-fucking-five. Audiences are eventually going to go: ‘Come on!’”) only to then turn around and completely contradict himself (“I’m going to be doing action movies until they bury me in the ground. I’m unretired.”) So, who knows if The Commuter, his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra after Unknown, Run All Night and Non-Stop, is the end of the line for what just might go down as the most improbable run for any action star in film history. However, if this is it what an entirely appropriate note to go out on: The Commuter is familiar, unintentionally mockable and more than a bit silly, but it’s also a lot of fun and one of the better efforts from Neeson and Collet-Serra, even if all they’ve really done here is remake Non-Stop on a train.

Neeson plays an ex-cop-turned-life-insurance-salesman with a lengthy daily train commute to his office in New York City. One day, a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him on the train with a hypothetical situation which quickly turns very real: somebody on the train doesn’t belong there, and if he can figure out who and place a tracker on their bag he gets $100,000, money he sorely needs to pay for his son’s college tuition. He can’t tell anyone about it or call for help nor can he even get off the train until the job is done. What becomes of the person whose bag he tags isn’t his concern. If he breaks the rules people around him will start getting killed and his family will be kidnapped.

Varmiga then quickly exits the train and gives him one stop to think about it, sending messengers and contacting him on the phone for any further communication. Before he fully knows what’s happening, he’s stuck playing her game.

And…that’s just about it, really. It’s a perfectly simple set-up for a perfectly diverting B-movie, one which packs plenty of tension into a swift 105 minutes, veering from one false-lead to another before exploding into an over-the-top finale.

The weird thing about The Commuter, though, is how serious it wants to be at the start. There’s an impeccably edited opening condensing years of Neeson’s life into the same routine he follows on his commute to and back from work every day. Then there’s all this finger-wagging 1% vs. 99% rhetoric, raging against systemic corporate and police corruption in an effort to clearly present Neeson’s character as a man of the people. He’s just like us, simply a nice guy trying to make ends meet in a world that is rarely ever nice, still struggling all these years later to recover from The Great Recession. Damn the man!

It’s never subtle, but this bit of character establishment is actually very effective. The problem is once the actual dumb-but-fun action portion of the story kicks in on the train the inevitable escalation of the stakes ensures the movie we start in is not the same one we end with. We start with something closer to The Big Short and somehow end with even more of a 90s action movie pastiche than usual for Neeson. Beyond that, the tension on the train starts out Hitchcockian (including a signature Vertigo-shot) but eventually turns into something Renny Harlin would be proud of.

So, there’s some definite whiplash involved with watching The Commuter. But it’s a Liam Neeson movie. On a train. And, ala Taken and Non-Stop, he talks to or communicates with the villain via a cell phone throughout the whole thing. You know what you’re signing up for. I mean, at one point Neeson beats someone up with their own guitar. A guitar! And it looks like a child’s plaything in his gargantuan hands!

Plus, as a bonus, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, and Jonathan Banks all pop up as side characters.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Want a classy, drawn-out mystery-on-a-train movie? Check out Murder on the Orient Express. Want an enjoyably dumb one that never lets up? Check out The Commuter.

CRITICAL CONSENSUS RIGHT NOW

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

  1. Liam Neeson actually gets his ass kicked a lot in this movie. The script repeatedly points out that his character is 60-years-old and a decade removed from his days as a cop. So, it is at least a nice new look that he doesn’t super spy his way through every fight scene and always mop the floor with opponents who are all half his age.
  2. The Commuter gets extra points for having Liam Neeson say, “On behalf of the American middle class, fuck you, Goldman Sachs!”
  3. What an odd coincidence that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, the central stars of The Conjuring universe, would both be in this movie but never share a scene together.

Have you seen The Commuter? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

2 Comments

  1. It surprised me when you said that this is Nesson’s fourth movie with the director and I was expecting one or two of his Taken movies would be part of the said collaboration. But no, he actually made three action movies that I previously never heard of or probably dismissed as Taken rip-offs. I initially thought they were straight-to-video movies (like JCVD’s) but maybe not.

    One review I’ve read says the movie’s plot hole’s so big you could run a train through it. Sounds like it’s fun to watch with a bottle of cold beer in hand. I just hope it’s not like his past action thrillers with incomprehensible shaky cam action scenes.

    Reply

    1. “It surprised me when you said that this is Nesson’s fourth movie with the director and I was expecting one or two of his Taken movies”

      Heck, that surprised me too when I looked it up. I thought surely one of the movies must have been Taken. To recap, though, Non-Stop is the one with Neeson and Julianne Moore on a plan. Run By Night is the one with Neeson and Ed Harris as two dudes forced into conflict over their idiot sons. Unknown is the one where Neeson wakes up to a life one day where everyone he knew and loved no longer seems to have ever known him…or something. It’s been a while on that one for me. I just remember January Jones plays his wife/total stranger, and she’s as January Jones (translation: emotionless ice-queen) in it as ever.

      “Sounds like it’s fun to watch with a bottle of cold beer in hand.”

      Put that on the poster and in the trailer because it is the absolute perfect description.

      “I just hope it’s not like his past action thrillers with incomprehensible shaky cam action scenes.”

      Eh. Maybe drink a little more of that beer while watching it and you won’t mind it as much because, yeah, there are some definitely shaky cam moments. The stuff with Neeson trying to track down the mysterious person on the train is great, tense cinema, and the first fight scene is perfectly fine. However, as the literal train starts derailing so does the plot and the director’s hold on the action, resulting in some real shaky action at the end.

      Reply

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