THE COMMUTER – Review
I’m not sure that Liam Neeson’s former police officer turned life insurance salesman remembers that you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Even though on the surface Neeson is playing hero, his character is aggressively stalking multiple passengers on a train before playing judge, jury, and executioner for one unlucky passenger. It’s interesting that this is what a hero is made to look like in 2018.
Much like his previous film THE SHALLOWS, Jaume Collet-Serra centers THE COMMUTER around an ordinary man who is forced into an extraordinary situation. The main difference though is the setting. The wide-open expanse of the ocean in his previous film is replaced by the claustrophobic setting of a Commuter train. What’s ironic is that the tension and intensity of the situation in THE SHALLOWS is far more effective than what he captures on this short train ride.
The plot centers around Neeson being given an ultimatum by an unknown woman (Vera Farmiga) to kill a stranger on a train with a mysterious package in exchange for a large chunk of change. After the film opens with the reasons for why he would agree to this silly plan, you’re meant to go along for the ride despite what his police background would lead you to believe. With that device set in motion, you expect there to be a certain level of Agatha Christie character questioning at play. Unfortunately, Collet-Serra focuses his sights solely on his born-again hero instead of diving into the other players in this game. The sense of intrigue is never there and becomes even less so as the film moves towards the anticlimactic big reveal. What could have been a fun whodunnit quickly devolves into Neeson just running up and down the train (over and over again) playing hero.
Leave it to Neeson to play a once-saluted hero that is now struggling to make ends meet. If that isn’t an accurate reflection of the actor’s career than I don’t know what is. He has always excelled at breathing life into genre tropes (see Sam Raimi’s DARKMAN as an earlier example). Yet, THE COMMUTER shows Neeson at the end of his line. He seems tired, and more so, shows disinterest in the material and the type of “lone gunman” archetype that has defined his career in the past 10 years. As he has not so subtlety hinted at in recent interviews promoting the film, he’s well aware that he’s getting “too old for this shit.” Oddly enough, the one bright spot in the film relies on Neeson showing his age and getting his ass handed to him by a young attacker in a gritty long-take action sequence.
The lazy script and even lazier performances are punctuated with some cheap CGI and camera effects – a reverse zoom-in going back through the train only cheapens the drama. Even amid the ridiculous train explosions and Neeson dangling from the side of a train car, Collet-Serra seems to be making the point that we still need our old heroes. This is the fourth collaboration between the director and the actor, and the fact that he hasn’t given up on the 65 yr old actor is a telling sign. Perhaps it’s a level of nostalgia for the “good ole” days of John Wayne still standing tall despite his age or maybe it’s that Collet-Serra thinks that now more than ever we need to be making a statement about what true heroism looks like in 2018. Either way, he seems to be making some sort of point by sticking with his man and having him deliver lines like, “From the American middle class: F-ck you!” when addressing a young wealthy investment broker. While audiences might be left with only a few remaining films in Neeson’s aging-hero action catalog (there’s a handful in pre-production according to IMDB), THE COMMUTER won’t be a stop on his career path that many will want to revisit.
Overall score: 2 out of 5
THE COMMUTER opens in theaters everywhere on January 12th