Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 7, 2018)
Continuing a late-career trend that started with 2009’s Taken, 2018’s The Commuter brings Liam Neeson back with another butt-kicking part. A former cop, Michael MacCauley (Neeson) became an insurance agent years earlier, and he takes the same train commute daily.
During this routine journey, a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) approaches Michael with a cryptic offer. If he locates a particular passenger, he can earn a reward – and if he doesn’t, dire consequences may result. Michael finds himself forced to deal with this bizarre threat.
Someday I plan to rent a theater and host a Liam Neeson film festival that focuses solely on his post-Taken action flicks. However, I’ll remove the credits from each movie and challenge viewers to identify which one is which.
Spoiler alert: they’ll fail.
Yes, that’s an exaggeration. Yes, this may be a cheap shot at Neeson. Consider me guilty of these crimes.
My point remains: over the last decade, Neeson has essentially made the same movie over and over again. Sure, some variations occur, but he seems to play the same role every time and the results always play out in the same way.
Sometimes this works out and brings us an enjoyable action ride, and other times… not so much. Trite and tedious, Commuter falls into that “not so much” category.
Which doesn’t have to be the case, as the movie’s Hitchcockian motif comes with potential. Granted, Michael’s background as a cop separates somewhat him from the usual “ordinary man” favored by Hitchcock, but as depicted, the character seems “average” enough suit that concept, and the story boasts ample intrigue and mystery.
Unfortunately, as displayed here, Commuter squanders its possible strengths due to cheap, ham-fisted execution. From the stiff, flat exposition at its start through the obvious “thrills” at every turn, the film fails to take advantage of any clever concepts.
Instead, Commuter offers a reel of plot holes and contrivances. It telegraphs virtually every “revelation” and comes with nary a surprise along the way.
This robs the film of any sense of tension, as does the movie’s presentation. Everything about Commuter ramps the material to “11” and tries to beat the viewer over the head with a false sense of urgency.
Expect these choices to infect every aspect of the film. The score constantly urges us to buy into the non-existent “excitement”, and the story tends to play like a long reel of increasingly ineffective climaxes.
Not that long ago, I seemed to gripe about the gratuitous use of handheld “shaky-cam” photography in an awful lot of movies. I don’t do this as much now, and I assumed I’d just been beaten down by Hollywood – I figured I became so accustomed to this style that I barely noticed its overuse any more.
Commuter quickly disavowed me of that notion, as the camerawork became a substantial distraction. Granted, the photographic choices varied, so we didn’t get a relentless Paul Greengrass-style “jerky-cam fest”.
However, the camera bobs and weaves much more than necessary, especially during many simple scenes. For instance, a basic chat at a bar turns into a nausea-inducing presentation as the image jumps and skitters.
All of this feels desperate, like the filmmakers don’t really trust the natural drama of the material. They seem eager to convey any form of “tension” they can find, and this results in a thriller with zero actual thrills.
Neeson fails to break a sweat as our lead. Like I noted, he plays the same character he’s done over the last decade, so expect nothing new or fresh here. Neeson seems bored and that impacts the end result – if he doesn’t care enough to exert some effort, why should we invest in the tale?
Even with a top-notch performance from Neeson, though, Commuter would fail. 105 minutes of contrivances, coincidences and plot holes, this becomes a weak attempt at a thriller.