Today we’re going to be looking at the latest Liam Neeson vehicle: A commuter train.
Hah, see what I did there? Okay, fine, I won’t quit my day job. Today we’re going to be talking about The Commuter, where Liam Neeson plays ex-cop turned insurance salesman Michael MacCauley who, for ten years, has been taking the same train every day, rain or shine, until the day he is unceremoniously fired for the crime of being sixty years old. Returning home, jobless and desperate, he meets a woman who asks him to get involved in a hypothetical situation where he needs to identify someone on the train, someone who isn’t a regular, in exchange for $100,000.
It quickly transpires that this hypothetical situation isn’t so hypothetical, and events rapidly escalate as the bodies begin to mount and the pressure on Liam Neeson’s character also mounts as he doesn’t know who he can trust or who he can turn to.
When this was first announced, I remember a lot of people saying “Oh, it’s just Taken on a train” and I am aware that a lot of comparisons have been made to the other Liam Neeson film Non-Stop and there are definite similarities. First, they were both directed by the same man, Jaume Collet-Serra. Both feature cramped quarters on a moving vehicle, financial reward, definitive time limit to events, but the character Neeson plays in this is very different to both these other films.
This is no Brian Mills with his “special set of skills”. This is a sixty-year-old man who was a cop ten years ago, but since then he’s been sitting behind a desk and pushing paper. So when there are fight scenes, they’re brutal, visceral and Neeson gets as much of a beating as he gives out, because it’s been ten years since he’s had to do anything but go to work and home again; and that’s a good thing. If he had come across as some unstoppable badass, it simply wouldn’t have been believable. It’s quite a nice change to have our protagonist something more of the everyman, the regular joe, doing his best to cope as I imagine a lot of us would in his position.
The plot is serviceable, if nothing we really haven’t already seen a hundred times before if you’re at all familiar with these specific action films, but it’s executed well and rattles along at a fair old pace. However, the opening montage is rather disjointed. You’re treated to a montage of life – get up at the same time, speak to family, drive to the station, get on the train – but it’s sometimes not clear what sequence these events fall in, if they’re strictly chronological or not, so it’s not until later in the film that you begin to understand where this NOW fits in with all the other sequences we’ve been presented with.
If I had to nitpick further (which I do) I would also highlight one particularly effects-heavy scene, which: a) Really doesn’t look all that good, the CGI a bit on the cheap side, and b) Kind of pushes the limits of what you think a 60-year-old ex-cop is capable of. I won’t go into too much detail as it would spoil the scene, but I will confess to some raised eyebrows at that point.
Moving on, who else do we have in this particular movie other than Liam Neeson? We have Sam Neill, and it was legitimately great to see his name in the opening credits. It was also legitimately disappointing to find that he’s in the movie for a grand total of about five minutes at the start, and then another ten minutes or so at the end and that’s your lot. What a shame, I’d hoped for more. It’s difficult to talk about his character as he’s hardly involved in the story at all. He is rocking quite a moustache, but at no point does he gouge his own eyes out and yell “Do You See?!” a la Event Horizon. Disappointing.
Our other notable lead is Patrick Wilson, who has also been in Prometheus and Bone Tomahawk as well as the Insidious and Conjuring series of movies. He plays Alex Murphy. No, not that one. Sadly there is no “your move, creep” or “dead or alive, you’re coming with me”. Which is rather a shame as that would have lifted this movie from “simply okay” to “utterly amazing”. RoboCop makes everything better. Except RoboCop 3. There’s no saving RoboCop 3.
But we’ve drifted off track. Need to get this review back on the rails, got a schedule to keep, need to build up a head of steam and I am really going to stop with the train related puns and sum up. If you liked Non-Stop, Taken, Run All Night or A Walk Among the Tombstones then this will keep you entertained.