Movie Review: The Commuter

The Commuter is a crime mystery thriller from Jaume Collet-Serra, starring Liam Neeson in a leading role that has become quite typical for the pairing. Having created a subgenre for actors fast approaching 60 to prove “they’ve still got it” with the thriller, Taken, he’s continued to prove himself worthy. Following in the tradition of Taken, came Unknown, Taken 2, Non-Stop, Run All Night, Taken 3 and now The Commuter… giving one the growing feeling that they’re not done yet! A hefty man at 6 ft 4, with a rugged demeanour and a raspy voice, he’s as prolific as Charles Bronson was following Death Wish.

The Commuter follows the story of a long-serving middle management executive, and former cop, who is retrenched from his job at a corporate insurance company. A family man on the cusp of sending his son to college, there are continual financial pressures with refinanced mortgages to pay. When a beautiful woman makes a lucrative proposition to him on his commute home, his curiosity drives his temptation to the point of becoming embroiled in a dangerous game aboard the moving train.

Liam Neeson performed a similar role in Collet-Serra’s airline thriller, Non-Stop, which saw him playing a special agent trying to root out a terrorist on board a commercial flight. While re-positioned as a family man, there are some striking similarities, refreshing the thriller type by replanting it on a train instead of a plane. The Commuter also has some similarities with the sci-fi thriller, Source Code, even sharing Vera Farmiga in the cast credits. At one point the movie poster logo for Unknown flashes across a cellphone screen signalling an unidentified number.

“I guess I’ll never be too old for this shite…”

Liam Neeson is supported by a stellar cast. While they’re relegated to smaller bit parts, they certainly beef up the overall quality of the production with names like Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Vera Farmiga, Jonathan Banks and Elizabeth McGovern of Downton Abbey. Collet-Serra’s direction makes for a compelling, finger-on-the-pulse action thriller. While it’s more in keeping with The Fugitive than the classic Murder on the Orient Express in terms of finesse, the film does offer some thought-provoking moral dilemmas and engages us with light detective work. Neeson’s performance is typical in these movies, holding great intensity and matching the well-paced drive of the The Commuter. The only real difference is that he’s allowed to play it with his own accent.

The dexterous visuals, myriad of suspicious passengers and clever use of space between the train carriages keeps this thriller on the boil. Through some smart editing, we are quickly drawn into the man’s family situation with some fast-tracked flashbacks to give it grounding. While fairly typical of Liam Neeson and this subgenre, there are enough twists-and-turns to keep you guessing. While The Commuter does have tried-and-tested formula at play, the underlying mystery provides enough go forward not to become too blasé. There are plenty of question marks around the motives of the aggressors and their methodology. However, most of the revelations are linked into a workable order by the time the credits roll.

The Commuter is an enjoyable, well-paced and convincing crime mystery thriller. It’s what you’d expect from Liam Neeson and John Collet-Serra in terms of their previous collaborations, making the end result familiar yet satisfying. The film could have been cut about 15 minutes shorter and possibly reveled in its intricacies rather than continually upscaling. Fans of the director and star will not be disappointed, although the “haven’t we seen this all before” feeling does dampen the overall effect. There’s enough going on to keep you actively watching but it’s not going to displace Run All Night and Taken from his repertoire. As far as contemporary train thrillers go, it’s better than the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, but not in the same league as Source Code.

The bottom line: Entertaining