If you see Liam Neeson boarding the same (insert mode of transportation), turn the other way
By Jason Wiese
So, you probably think that you are about to read a review of a new Liam Neeson action movie. Well, technically, you are correct. The Commuter is the latest in a string of thrillers starring the Irish Academy Award-nominee as an aging badass forced into a situation putting innocent lives, including his own, at stake. However, if you have already seen Non-Stop, Neeson’s 2014 collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra in which he races against time to save passengers on a plane, you have pretty much already seen The Commuter, Neeson’s 2018 collaboration with Collet-Serra in which he races against time to save passengers on a train.
Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a family man who has taken the same train to work everyday for the past 10 years. One day, a woman who calls herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga) sits across from him on his way home and corners him with a mysterious offer. If MacCauley can identify a passenger who, as Joanna describes “does not belong,” he will be rewarded with $100,000 cash. Out of desperation, he accepts the offer, soon turning his daily commute into a deadly game of Guess Who? as he races against the clock to uncover this special passenger and figure out what makes them so special, while also struggling to simultaneously preserve the safety of his fellow commuters and his family.
That sounds a bit like a “Liam Neeson thriller checklist”, does it not? Just you wait.
Non-Stop begins with Neeson’s air marshall Bill Marks observing his fellow passengers before boarding the plane so we know who to suspect may be the mystery hijacker later. Early in The Commuter, there is a tracking shot following the length of the train that occasionally stops to focus on particular passengers so we know who to suspect may be Joanna’s target. In Non-Stop, because Neeson’s character is an air marshall, he knows many of the airplane crew, which helps him narrow down who can be trusted. In The Commuter, because Neeson’s character is a regular commuter, he knows many of the train crew and many of its passengers, which helps him narrow down who can be trusted. In Non-Stop, Neeson’s character is chosen by the mystery hijacker to be set-up to look like the real culprit if anything goes against his plan. In The Commuter, Neeson’s character is chosen by Joanna to be set-up to look like the real culprit if anything goes against her plan. In Non-Stop, Neeson…
You know what? I am sure you get it by now.
Parallels to Non-Stop aside, the film is really absurd. It is a mish-mash of cheesy dialogue, reality-defying stunts and shameless borrowing from countless thrillers of the past that did a lot of the same things better. But its most crucial flaw is that it is just a few brain cells shy of making almost any sense at all. But, damn, it is well-directed. Collet-Serra has a gift for keeping his audience entertained and attentive. Even when the answers to the story’s mysteries are right there in front of you, he does an adequate job distracting you with Neeson’s signature sequences of old fashioned ass-kicking and looking good doing it.
Like Non-Stop, The Commuter is not without its flaws. But, also like Non-Stop (I promise this is the last time I do this), The Commuter never ceased to hold my attention and gave a me a genuinely good time. What more can you really ask for from an action thriller released in January? If Neeson and Collet-Serra want to keep making the same movie over and over again together, as long as they do not forget how to make it fun, that is fine by me.