The Commuter serves as the most recent staple of the Liam-Neeson-action-thriller genre, appropriately directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (with whom this marks his fourth collaboration). Although this well-trodden path leads to an entirely predictable plot and a stripped-down script, the film just about gratifies the everyday moviegoer through enough momentum and action-packed scenes that the audience will not ponder at the innumerable unanswered questions.
Michael McCauley (Neeson) has been fired from his job as an insurance salesman. He’s at the end of his tether. Tolerating an exhaustive humdrum morning routine and an empty bank account (despite living in a rather large house), McCauley repeatedly bickers with his wife (Elizabeth McGovern, unfairly subjected to an insignificantly small role) over money. Sound like the valiant Neeson we are familiar with? No? Just you wait. After being offered $100,000 by a peculiar dame (Vera Farmiga, effectively deployed with the same mysterious charm as in Bates Motel) on his train home, McCauley must find and report a witness to a murder. Running for 90 minutes, all must be done before the final stop in this almost real-life Hitchcockian race against time.
Alas, let the chaos unfold. The film sees Neeson magnificently transform into his familiar senior hero action role, jumping between carriages and throwing men out of windows in attempt to save the passengers from ‘them’. But who are ‘they’? Why have they chosen McCauley? What is going on? These questions left me feeling unsatisfied and confused, irritated that the filmmakers had not fully explained the film’s premise. The exceedingly dubious sequence of events can only build suspense if its audience believe its film’s working-class protagonist would subject a fellow passenger to perilous danger as consequence of his financial slump.
Nonetheless, the cinematography proves a success, and despite the confined space of a train, Bafta-winning cinematographer Paul Cameron excites his audience through uninterrupted, graceful camera movements. One particularly successful fast-forward cut shows the camera expanding backwards throughout the train’s carriages and crowds as Neeson is subjected to an extensive game of ‘guess the witness’.
All in all, the film is carried through by Neeson’s impressive performance, hitting his problems on the head like always as the audience longingly waits for the baddies to be conquered. I can assure you that The Commuter will keep you on the edge of your seat just enough to watch it from start to finish, providing that you don’t ask too many questions and give yourself over to its silliness.
Film reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh.
Image: Studio Canal