Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Running Time: 104 Minutes
UK Release Date: 19 January 2018
BBFC Certificate: 15
First of all a spoiler warning to whoever is reading this, as I will divulge some of the plot and scenes of this film. As a self-imposed rule I don’t like to give away any spoilers, but I find it hard to hold back when reviewing a film that I felt wasn’t great, was predictable and generic – despite its interesting premise. You have been warned but if you have seen the spoilerific trailer then nothing in this review will surprise or shock you.
A few years ago after Taken 3 (2014) pretty much bombed at the box office, I read an article in which star Liam Neeson said he would no longer be making action films in which he is the lead, facing off against wave after wave of disposable villains. This was in part due to Neeson’s age and that he felt he was being typecast.
With this in mind I was expecting The Commuter to be more of a psychological thriller, without any standout action scenes. While this is partly true of the finished product, it’s a shame that after the interesting set up, the film descends into the familiarly stupid and predictable territory of bad and forgettable thriller/action films.
Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, an insurance salesman who isn’t having the best of days. On his train home a stranger (Vera Farmiga) presents him with a challenge – he needs to identify an individual on the train who he’s never seen before and plant a GPS tracker in exchange for $100,000. Of course there are conditions and not all is as it seems. Unsurprisingly, as he investigates who he has to find and why, events go south. Just like the film as a whole.
The movie begins quite well with an opening montage showing Michael and his family’s morning routine over the course of several months. It’s a great way to set up and add depth to his family and general home life. We also see his morning commute and interactions with some of his fellow passenger (including, pleasantly, Jonathan Banks who plays Mike in Breaking Bad (2009 – 2013)).
Without going too much into the plot, we find out Michael is an ex-cop with a buddy in the force (Patrick Wilson, who is criminally underused), and that there was a recent suicide of someone seemingly unconnected. We also learn a few other pieces of the puzzle in the well-paced and engrossing first act. After that, unfortunately the film doesn’t live up to its concept. As it progressed I found myself simply waiting for it play out and end.
Maybe I’ve been watching too much Black Mirror recently, but I would have preferred to see Michael finding the individual on the train, then after planting the GPS tracker finding out the consequences of his actions, and then the film ends with him safely being picked up by his wife at his station with her asking how his day was, and cut to black. It would have aided the sense of mystery and add a dark weight to the consequences of Michael’s actions.
Throughout the film there are hints at themes such as corporate greed, the effects of the 2008 recession, corruption and conspiracy within higher authorities, and also the philosophical concepts of cause and effect, selfishness and selflessness. Sadly though, these themes are barely explored. Michael’s mission could have had a connection to one of his and his police partner’s past cases, or fleshed out what’s at stake for any other passengers on the train who are caught up in this game. Instead, what we get is predictable characterization where, for example, some friends become enemies and some seeming enemies become allies.
The film takes elements of detective mysteries and other thrillers, but seemingly goes nowhere with them. The middle section drags and there isn’t any real peril for Michael or his family, just for the other commuters who are barely fleshed out – and as such the audience isn’t invested in their fates.
On a positive note the film is well shot and there are some impressive uses of camerawork throughout, including what seems to be a staple of modern action films: the fight scene done in one continuous take even though it’s obvious that there was a cut the moment a character ducked out of shot.
This review seems like a rant against its high-concept not being utilised to full effect, and that’s the impression I got when I left the cinema. It’s a tough review to write as I didn’t have high hopes for this film and should be more accepting of this film as it is. I didn’t think it was truly awful and I enjoyed some moments, but on the whole it’s not great and just gets worse as it chugs along, before literally and figuratively going off the rails.
The audience I was with was sighing throughout and unintentionally laughing at key moments. With that in mind you will enjoy this film if you have low expectations, and be advised that it descends into the same corny, cheesy and silly movie you have seen before, but this one will be forgotten.
It’s also undoubtedly meta that Neeson connects with his character Michael MacCauley, mainly because they are both doing it for the money.
Overall Verdict: A good idea for a claustrophobic race against time thriller, that unfortunately fails to deliver.
Reviewer: George Elcombe