On his ride home that day, Michael is approached by a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who makes him an offer: he will be paid $100,00 if he can figure out which of the passengers on the train is carrying something precious in their bag.
For 10 years, Michael MacCauley (Neeson) - an ex-cop - has worked as an insurance salesman in New York City, dutifully providing for his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and son (Dean-Charles Chapman) in the aftermath of financial trouble stemming from the 2008 meltdown. Flung jobless into the mad swirl of midday Manhattan, with a spouse on the line inquiring about their kid's college-tuition payments, Michael is shell-shocked - an existential state well-suited to the handsomely aged Neeson's gaunt, somewhat gangly aspect.
If the film too quickly builds into hysteria - at one point, with Michael fighting for his life, crawling out from under a moving locomotive, and discovering a dead body under the train, it occurred to me that the entire far-fetched enterprise might just be some sort of "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" scenario, triggered because he was so miserable to have to tell his wife about being laid off, but alas, that proved overly optimistic - at least it takes a few minutes to ground its protagonist.
The screenplay (credited to Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle) is engaging but at times convoluted in its logistics, especially after the crystalline simplicity of Collet-Serra's shark-versus-girl number The Shallows (2016). Intelligent, tantalising layers that will have you asking, "What would I do in Neeson's situation, assuming I was as kick-ass as him?"
The film doesn't gain much traction from its familiar claustrophobic setting aboard a crowded train, nor does it take much time to ponder the moral complexity inherent in its thin ticking-clock premise. The movie also incorporates some stylistic flourishes (sped up motion, sequence shots seemingly created in post-production) in these scenes, to further spice things up.
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The Commuter opens with a montage as striking as it is stylized, hinting at the more ambitious filmmaker lurking underneath Collet-Serra's journeyman exterior.
Many ridiculous things happen on the train. This is basically just Liam Neeson telling you to turn right, turn left, or make a U-turn.
His latest vigilante thriller is The Commuter, a slick exercise in middle-class action-hero silliness that's neither consistently exciting nor intriguing. "Unknown" and "Non-Stop" are better efforts, but he also was working from better scripts. It's not a film that demands to be seen in a theater, and it falls well short of breaking the mold that Neeson and Collet-Serra have established for their movies together by now.
It's not the worst way to waste a couple of hours on a chilly January afternoon, but The Commuter is easily the least of Neeson and Collet-Serra's quartet of potboilers.
The Commuter begins playing in USA theaters nationwide tonight. "So we have to be part of the solution".
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