The Jan-Feb section of the film season, normally a dead-man’s land of film flops, has become occupied by the ever-reliable Neeson-Serra action thrillers consisting of Unknown, Run All Night, and Non-Stop, popularly coined ‘Liam Neeson films’.
Neeson’s name has become synonymous with Collet-Serra’s action-packed thrillers where he thrives amidst explosions, kidnapped family members, and race-against-the-clock narratives that always entertain but often fall short of excitement. In these films Neeson embodies men that can tear down any obstacle and eliminate any threat when their life or the lives of their family is at stake. In The Commuter Neeson’s character is a little different. With the backstory of an ex-cop laying the foundations for the bad-assery skills necessary to save the day, Neeson’s new character, 60 year old insurance salesman Michael, is forced to continually push himself to survive the dangerous curve balls relentlessly thrown at him, requiring a little more encouragement than the usual Neeson character, before he starts unleashing hell.The villains are vague yet formidable, demonstrating repeatedly that they can kill anyone he loves with a quick flick of the wrist or a simple phone call if he doesn’t fulfil their orders, drawing out his suffering until the inevitable ‘end of the line’. Oh, and they have his wife and son. That’s pretty compelling, even for Michael. Throughout his battles with an indistinct evil the film begins to resemble a contemporary Hitchcockian Murder on the Orient Express, with every passenger a potential victim or villain, not as cleverly thought out and at some points confusing, but a solid stand out amongst ‘Liam Neeson films’. It follows the same formula but with a more intriguing puzzle and an emphasis on paranoia, ultimately attempting to confront the classic moral dilemma: what would you be willing to do for the things you want? Michael is presented with this conflicting question as a mystery woman promises him a total of $100, 000 ($25, 000 given up front) for placing a tracking device on a passenger who ‘doesn’t belong’, thus condemning them to an unknown, but seemingly dark, fate.
For a recently fired man with a mortgage and a son about to enter college it seems a rather enticing but immoral decision- until the stakes are raised. And then raised again. Until he finds himself forced to choose between a stranger and his family, a choice he is hell-bent on evading in his attempts to stabilise the increasingly out-of-control situation. His reluctance to bend to the will of the walls rapidly closing in around him and his unwavering determination to solve the mystery, instead of snapping necks to save his family, makes him, and the film, a little more interesting.
In fact, the true appeal of Michael is that, even though he can still pack a fierce punch in close-quarters combat, he never makes it look effortless. Every desperate swing is a fight for survival, every stumble is believable. And, once the last battle is over, he staggers to his seat looking like hell and reminds us in an I’m-too-old-for-this-shit tone that he’s sixty and he wants to go home.That’s really what it comes down to. In a film that can feel rushed and beyond confusing, at the base of this ‘bad day on steroids’ is the classic miserable commuter experience that everyone can relate to—your work day was awful, you feel like your life is falling apart, the irritating passengers are making you daydream of murder, and all you want to do is go home. End the day. But unfortunately, for Michael, this is not an option—unless he winds up getting himself killed.
Join the tired, but still kicking, Liam Neeson in the action-packed ride that is The Commuter, featuring a slightly jumbled and illogical plot that, along with the train, falls a little off the rails at times, but ultimately leaves you feeling satisfied and surprised, a little exhilarated, and potentially suffering from fast-plot induced whiplash.
The Commuter is in cinemas now.