Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
Always Bring a Guitar to a Knife Fight
In case you weren’t sick of their previous collaborations (Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night), The Commuter is the fourth time actor Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra have worked together in less than a seven year timespan. With a story by first time screenwriters Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi and a screenplay by Willinger, de Blasi, and Non-Stop screenwriter Ryan Engle, it’s no surprise that The Commuter feels like a carbon copy of a copy of a copy of a copy; even the movie poster feels like something we’ve seen before. We’ve been looking at Neeson’s profile while he holds a gun or cell phone since Taken back in 2008; maybe we could at least see the other side of his face for the next ten years.
Michael MacCauley (Neeson) has been selling life insurance for ten years. He lives a routine life, but Michael is on the verge of retirement at the age of 60 and he’s preparing to send his son off to college where tuition alone will put him in an early grave. After Michael loses his job out of nowhere and someone steals his wallet, he’s feeling pretty desperate for money. A strange woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) approaches Michael on the train and offers him $100,000 to find a thief on the train before the last stop. Michael must rely on the skills he had when he was a cop to narrow down who could be the suspect, but time is of the essence and his family may be in danger.
The Commuter boasts a pretty decent cast for a below average action thriller. In addition to Neeson and Farmiga, Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, The Conjuring) also co-star. The Commuter seems like an odd film to release a mere two months after Murder on the Orient Express was in theaters, which seems so similar in concept. The Commuter is basically Liam Neeson walking up and down the same aisle for an hour and 45 minutes as he struggles with six decades worth of osteoporosis as his dry and brittle bones creak and snap during every fight and action sequence.
A serious pet peeve of mine is when there is next to nothing going on on-screen in a film, but the camera is bouncing around for no reason when it feels like an easy shot with little to no cuts or camera angles needing to be used. A scene in The Commuter has Liam Neeson and Patrick Wilson sitting at a bar talking where the most action occurring is one of them turning their head or drinking the beer in front of them, but the camera can’t seem to sit still. It’s as if Paul Cameron, the director of photography, coated the camera with butter, shoved a beehive down his pants, and then attempted to shoot the scene while running in place, juggling a slippery camera, and trying to keep some angry bees off of his little Neeson.
Signs in The Commuter seem to serve as the smart-aleck sidekick who only chimes in with know-it-all bullcrap when it’s totally inappropriate. Signs that say things like, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now,” a sign about acting suspicious, and “Danger of death!” only appear after the fact and in a told-you-so manner. Michael is already on the verge of a nervous breakdown with all that’s going on in the film. He doesn’t need a cluster of fiery a-hole signs giving him the third degree about a situation that is already out of hand.
While the film is basically a generic action turd swimming in a massively cliche punch bowl, the one highlight of the film is a single fight Liam Neeson has with a guy carrying a knife. Neeson steals the knife-carrier's guitar and starts beating him with it. The fight scene looks like it’s filmed similarly to how they pulled off the church sequence in Kingsman: The Secret Service and while it’s nowhere near as good as that it is the only redeemable aspect of this film.
The Commuter is generic as hell and incredibly predictable. The poor excuse of an action thriller is like a diluted version of Speed or an even lamer version of Unstoppable. While the knife/guitar fight is entertaining, the three minute sequence will likely be something that makes its way to Youtube in the coming months making The Commuter completely unnecessary to view in its entirety. Liam Neeson can hobble around, flip people the bird, and pretend to be five years younger than he really is all he wants. The Jaume Collet-Serra/Liam Neeson era is not only dead, it never had a pulse to begin with.
© 2018 Chris Sawin