The action film Gods have been favourable to Liam Neeson over the past few years. Three Taken films, Non-Stop, The Grey and A Walk Among The Tombstones have made the 65-year-old a bankable action star. It is therefore no surprise that we now find him cast in The Commuter –an action thriller set on a suburban train. But it also here where Neeson’s luck with well-written and smart action flicks comes to an end.
The Commuter does try hard. In a sense it almost seems like a simple story – retired cop Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) has been selling insurance for a number of years. Then out of the blue he is fired leaving him with a huge problem – how does he tell his wife that their lives are falling apart and he is flat broke.
It is then on his train trip that he has a chance encounter with the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga – Up In The Air, The Departed) who tells him to use his Detective skills to hunt down somebody she is looking for on the train – do the job and place a tracking device on them so they can then be killed and he will be paid handsomely. When Michael realises that they mean business he begins the task of hunting down the passenger while trying to get a help message to his former partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson – The Conjuring, Hard Candy) to alert him of the situation. But as the body count starts to rise suddenly Michael finds that those on board the train are suspicious of him and not only is Joanna turning more deadly but a police squad led by Captain Hawthorne (Sam Neil – Jurassic Park, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) sees Michael as a wanted man.
As we’ve seen from films like Snowpiercer and The Taking Of Pelham 123 films set on trains can raise the suspense level through the roof. When you group that together with the fact that The Commuter’s director Jaume Collet-Serra has down great jobs on films like The Shallows, Run All Night and Unknown, the last two also starring Neeson, you could be forgiven for thinking that you are about to experience another enjoyable action thriller. But sadly Collet-Serra himself seems to be a passenger as a weak screenplay means this train is heading for nothing but derailment.
In a sense the film itself feels lazy. Instead of being able to sit back and just enjoy the action the audience finds himself having to suspend way too much belief in order for the film to work. Even at a quick glance you realise that Joanna’s plan is flawed. She relies on way too much ‘chance’ of things working out for her with Michael. She is dumb enough to show him her own face and then you have people that are working with her almost delaying Michael when the whole plan rests on him being in certain places at certain times.
Even the suspense of Michael having to identify the target on the train is ruined by the fact that every character seems to be an un-interesting stereotype that the audience never really grows attached to while the audience is made suspend belief even more with some shoddy stunt-work, one stunt still has been scratching my head at how the laws of physics allowed for Michael to dispatch somebody from the train. Oh and then there is one of the most groanworthy lines of 2018 that is delivered by Conductor Sam (Colin McFarlane – The Dark Knight, Collision) – a line so bad that it should never have made it past the first draft of the script. In fact the only time that the film manages to raise the suspense levels is when we realise that the evidence is mounting up against Michael and this train seems doomed.
The poor screenplay also lets down the cast as well. Even the ever reliable Liam Neeson seems to struggle to pull off the relatively boring Michael as a character. Working back and forward up and down the train peering at people doesn’t really give an actor a lot to work with, while as I mentioned previously the stunts are nowhere near as good as what we know Neeson can produce. Sam Neil and Vera Farmiga are completely wasted in their roles while none of the other cast members get a chance to show what they are capable of either. Patrick Wilson probably would have been ecstatic when he realised that he had landed a role in a Liam Neeson action thriller but even he is given very little screen time and like so many others in this film finds himself playing a walking cliché.
The Commuter is one of those thrillers that never really goes anywhere. An implausible plotline grouped together with a poorly written screenplay results in a film that fizzles out with no impact on its audience at all. Save the dollars and go and watch Non-Stop again.
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