Taken the train.
Liam Neeson has experienced a bit of a career renaissance over the last decade or so. Despite being more of a classic actor who has had award worthy performances in films such as Schindler’s List and Kinsey, someone finally realized this is the same man who was Jedi master Qiu-Gon Jin in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and trained Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Upon this realization, Neeson was cast to kick butt in 2009’s Taken, which spawned 2 more sequels and a plethora of Neeson action vehicles: Unknown, The Grey, Non- Stop, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and Run All Night. The incomparable Liam Neeson is back once again in action territory, this time aboard a train in the Hitchcockian thriller The Commuter.
Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, an ex-cop turned insurance salesman who rides the train into New York City everyday who has fallen on rough times financially. One day on his commute back home, he is approached by Joanna (Vera Farminga), a mysterious woman who gives Michael a proposition: find a person on the train who doesn’t belong, and in return he will receive $100 K. After reluctantly accepting the offer, Michael becomes embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse aboard the train while looking for this passenger, and with someone watching his every move and threatening to harm his family, McCauley must find the passenger before the end of the line.
Neeson is a tremendous actor, and he can elevate even the worst of material. Neeson is able to deliver another great performance in the film, as he portrays Michael as a sympathetic Everyman who is forced into the circumstances he’s in for reasons that are understandable. This makes the central conflict of the film pretty compelling, and the back and forth between him and Vera Farminga keeps you invested and on your toes. The Commuter is definitely a throw-back to the old-school Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and the film is able to get a lot of mileage out of its premise due to the acting prowess of Neeson and Farminga and the feeling of claustrophobia on a crowded, inner-city transit system.
The rest of the ensemble cast, consisting of the passengers on the train and Patrick Wilson, also do a tremendous job. The passengers give you the feel of people you’d run into in the New York City transit system, and Wilson delivers another solid performance in his underrated career as Michael’s former partner who also finds himself involved.
Though his aforementioned filmography would suggest otherwise, Neeson is above material like The Commuter. The conspiracy involving the passenger Neeson must find is beyond contrived, and it’s telegraphed as it pertains to who else might be involved. The dialogue in the film is also laughable, including a rip-off of a classic scene from Spartacus involving the passenger who doesn’t belong on the train, an eye rolling homage if there ever were one.
The film devolves from its seemingly grounded setting into ridiculousness the further it goes along. Of course, Neeson’s cop roots come in handy in hand to hand fight scenes, which are well filmed and realistic in the sense that Neeson spends most of the film over-matched by his opponents. But then there’s the train crash all of the trailers and commercials sell you on, which makes the plane crash in Non-Stop look realistic by comparison. Despite Neeson constantly having his butt kicked and the ludicrous action, the more ridiculous the film gets, the more enjoyable it becomes. We’ve come to expect these types of movies from Neeson, and considering this is his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra, there’s definitely a familiar feeling presiding over the film.
Despite the ridiculous action sequences and twists you can see coming from a mile away, I found myself thoroughly enjoying The Commuter. Neeson is good in these fairly disposable, early in the year action movies that have made up a significant portion of his filmography the last decade or so. The premise itself is also intriguing, and the film is able to get some mileage out of it. The Commuter may rank lower in Liam Neeson’s action film resume, but it’s enjoyable enough for you to wish you had taken this train.
Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 4. Pay Low Matinee Price.
The Commuter stars Liam Neeson, Vera Farminga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabetha McGovern, Clara Lago, Ella-Rae Smith, and Sam Neil. It is in theaters January 12th.