For much of The Commuter, Liam Neeson fights his way through a train. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The 66-year-old veteran actor has found his niche over the better part of a decade now as the aged action hero. The Commuter is nothing you haven’t seen before. In fact, thats what is so disappointing about this film. Neeson could be making self-aware action films. Instead he’s making the same films on different modes of transportation. Frequent collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t seem to want to break the formula either. What transpires over the films 104 minute runtime, is the same, overly serious action film you’ve come to expect at this point.
The film starts out with some promising story beats. Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a suburbanite whose life is very normal and even to some extent banal. MacCauley takes the same commuter train everyday to his job as an insurance salesman. The role Neeson plays in the films opening few sequences is often interesting even knowing things will soon go wrong, as they do in these films. When they do, it is built up by such a painfully obvious chain of events, it’s hard not to lose focus. MacCauley winds up on the train and is thrust into a game of who-done-it by Vera Farmiga. In essence, the film ostensibly tries to set up a Murder on the Orient Express style mystery. The problem is that none of the characters are interesting, and most them are just space fillers or wasted entirely.
The immensely talented Farmiga is on screen in the film for all of five minutes before she is rushed off. The set up scene plays like a video game cut scene, where the stakes are explained, the rewards are made clear and the player sets on the mission. Nearly every time Farmiga’s character appears via it be in person or on the phone, her character serves no other purpose than to be the bridge to the next “mission”. Other talented actors, Johnathan Banks, Sam Neill and Patrick Wilson all feel like their roles could’ve been played by anybody. There’s very little commitment to the material to be found.
The Commuter is appropriately paced. To the films credit, it doesn’t ever feel like it overstays its welcome. Neeson brings creditability to the action sequences which outside of some cheap looking CGI, are mostly fun to watch. Neeson is at his best during these types of over the top action sequences. Admittedly, the movies logic is flawed. But the way the film plays out, it is possible to suspend disbelief for a moment to watch Neeson crawl under a moving train and jump back in. But the appeal of Neeson’s action hero is that he never makes it look easy. It’s a rare moment of authenticity that ultimately becomes undercut by the fact its nothing we haven’t seen before.
Through every utterly predictable twist and turn, The Commuter is sure to hit with its target audience. The whole movie itself isn’t unwatchable. Neeson continually has enough charisma and sincerity as an action star to warrant these movies being made. The film however is something you might find on cable one night and spend a couple hours watching. For the first time in one of these films Neeson appears to be phoning it in. The Commuter culminates with a finale so outrageous it leaves a sour taste in ones mouth. Then again, what could we expect from a January action movie?
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