The Commuter is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, and stars Liam Neeson, Sam Neill, Vera Farmiga, and Elizabeth McGovern.
Insurance salesman Michael MacCauley has had the same daily routine for years, with his biggest worries in life being paying the bills, and college tuition for his son, soon to graduate from high school. But one day he is unceremoniously laid off, and following drinks at the bar with friends from his days as a police officer, finds himself on the usual commuter train home, where he confronts a mysterious stranger. Before long, he is in over his head, threatened with the prospect of having to find an informant. If he accepts, he will be rewarded with tens of thousands of dollars, but if he refuses, his family will be killed. MacCauley must contemplate his moves carefully if he is to get off the train alive, and save the ones he loves the most.
Okay, let’s be honest. People don’t go to see the collaborations between star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra for deep, thought-provoking cinema. They go for big, dumb, and obvious action spectacles where they can turn off their brains and enjoy mindless escapism. Unfortunately, The Commuter brings nothing new to the table, with a plot that is simultaneously shallow and overloaded/overplotted, and an over-the-top execution that borderlines on camp. Neeson is the shining light in this film, but sadly, nothing else works. This should have been an action thriller or a murder mystery, not something in between.
The most positive thing about this film is Neeson. While the opening scenes of the film feel like they are setting up something else entirely, he is believable as an “everyman” going about his daily routine, swept up into the film’s chaos. The way he behaves is believable for a man that has befallen such circumstances. I like the concept of sweeping an everyday working-class man into unlikely happenings (something that Hitchcock did with a vengeance); it is just a shame that nothing else in the movie fares as well.
The overall execution of the movie is laughable. The villains’ plot, to legitimately and seriously work, would require an unrealistic and meticulous amount of planning with many variables taken under consideration; that things happen exactly as they do in the film is hardly believable at all. Tonal shifts in the movie are far too abrupt and frequent; the movie attempts to add some comic relief in the form of a cowardly womanizer of a railroad agent, but these gags fall flat and detract from the more serious tone much of the movie has. Horrible cinematography and bizarre camera angles coupled with “creative” shots in many places make the action scenes dizzying and nauseating to watch.
There will be obvious comparisons to Murder on the Orient Express (which received a solid film adaptation last November) with the train setting and having to find a particular person, but this film pretty much casts depth and any semblance of a believable plot aside. The movie is a train wreck, and the filmmakers even film the need to throw in a literal train wreck for good measure, even though it has no effect on the plot whatsoever. Even after this unnecessary action climax, the movie still meanders on at a snail’s pace. Hell, they even find a way to rip off Spartacus.
What starts as a fun action/thriller/murder mystery of sorts quickly spirals out of control, becoming overly campy and silly to the point that its initial “everyman” concept and Hitchcockian attempts at suspense and mystery solving become distant memories. Liam Neeson is reliable in action thrillers, but The Commuter (through no fault of Neeson's) falls flat and is dead on arrival. A few moments are fun, but the whole thing is just too over the top. Get your action thriller fix elsewhere, because this train doesn’t even make it to the station.
Rating: One out of four stars.