Liam Neeson’s name has become virtually synonymous with ‘rough-‘em-up revenge’ films. He is instantly known as the Irishman who can kick some tail and do what’s right. Films like the Taken trilogy and Non-Stop have notably contributed to this opinion. And in these films, whether its hunting down his stolen child or taking down terrorists, Neeson always kicks and punches his way to getting the job done. Neeson seems to continually be type-cast as the cop or former cop who must use his ‘skills’ to solve a mysterious or deadly problem. The Commuter, however, is the product of a slightly different narrative recipe than Neeson’s previous credits. Don’t worry, that’s a very good thing from all perspectives.
The film chronicles the everyday struggle of the American middle class through Neeson’s character, a common American man and former police officer who has worked his entire life towards retirement. In interesting sequence that is the first clue that this is not a wholly typical Liam Neeson film, we see his character awake, commute to work, and commute back home in a montage that spans a long period of time. This sequence serves the story well and brings a strong human element into the narrative. The story reaches a settling point as Neeson’s character sits in his office. In a spur of layoffs, he is fired and loses his pension all in the same moment. Afraid of the consequences of telling his wife, he begins the commute home. On the train he encounters a deadly threat to his life and a dicey financial opportunity, all in the form of a mysterious woman.
What ensues is a gritty, knock down, drag out struggle in the vein of the Die Hard franchise, especially since Neeson’s character is a former cop. At the same time, pithy Hitchcock-ian dialogue and gripping personal decisions provide counterpunches to the film’s intense action and fight scenes. Every moment the audience has the opportunity to think Neeson’s character has found the man he is looking for or the solution to his dilemma, The Commuter introduces a new element to his situation. As he is frantically scaling the train, the film becomes quite the perilous state of affairs. It’s a visually pleasing mix with subtly brilliant blocking that I’d characterize as half Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and half of the Die Hard elements I mentioned before. Like many of Hitchcock’s films and like the films of the Die Hard franchise, The Commuter utilizes a well-directed build of events to its climax that keeps audiences engaged.
Rather than pushing a full-on action film, The Commuter brings a procedural mystery to the table that allows the audience to later invest in Liam Neeson’s fighting (literally) crusade to get to the bottom of things. Neeson’s character must take things one step at a time in order to vanquish the forces conspiring against him. In the midst of his struggle through those steps is a compelling conspiracy story that his character has found himself in the thick of and must escape. The action is fast-paced and is all driven by Neeson’s character’s story. You wont want to miss that tandem.
The Commuter is Liam Neeson’s best work in a while. The film is much better than Unknown & Non-Stop (two recent films Neeson has done within the genre) thanks to a well-written script and screenplay and thorough execution of a two-sided story. The narrative of the film is decidedly deeper than the recent films mentioned. Rather than relying solely on Neeson’s physical abilities to sell tickets, The Commuter brings solid, provoking dialogue to the forefront that greatly enhances the fight scenes later injected into the film. These fight scenes are also very well choreographed and presented. Pairing those things with a subtle and percussive musical score gives The Commuter the potential to provide you with a riveting trip to the movies.
After Liam Neeson was recently quoted as saying he would not like to do any more action films, parts of the film world were worried we’d never see the Liam Neeson roles we loved again. While The Commuter could have been enhanced by slightly better coherency and pacing, it certainly contributes some doubt in relation to those words. Folks are going to want more of this kind of Liam Neeson film once they experience its exciting and pertinent overall quality. Honestly, The Commuter provides subtle grounds for a sequel with the character involved. It surely wouldn’t be out of the realm of previous film series in Neeson’s career.
In summation, sharp action, story, & Liam Neeson walloping some shady folks help The Commuter deliver a solid action-thriller film. It’s big, attention-grabbing, and repeatedly satisfying. That makes it well worth the price of a ticket for the train.