Many people have certain types of movies that they consider to be guilty pleasures. Perhaps it’s romantic comedies, or maybe it’s mindless action movies. For me, it’s those stories about your average guy who is thrust into a fantastical situation that appears out of his wheelhouse. It’s especially fun when this “every man” becomes a hero by using his wits as well as his braun to overcome the odds against a nasty villain. The Commuter delivers just that with some clever twists on the formula that makes for a great one-and-done experience. The final act is slightly disappointing, but it’s still a very entertaining lead up that makes it worth a viewing.
Michael MacCauley is an aging insurance salesman with a daily grind on a commuter train to and from work. He’s developed relationships with several other regulars over the years, and the commuters have become their own little “family”. After being let go from his job, Michael is on the saddest ride home of his life. He’s approached by a mysterious woman who offers him an opportunity to earn a large sum of money by doing a very simple task. All he has to do is find a passenger on the train and put a tracking device on his or her bag. Seems simple enough, right? What evolves, however, is anything but simple.
The setup for The Commuter feels a bit like a throwback to intriguing thrillers from the 90’s that we don’t see often anymore. The story has a certain Alfred Hitchcock/Agatha Christie flavor to it. But instead of giving us a “whodunnit” mystery, the films has us instead wondering who the target is. It’s a clever twist on a classic formula that held my interest even through some occasional slow segments. Unfortunately, the final act derailed for me. The interesting plot turned into a red herring trope that felt a bit muddy and convoluted. It didn’t ruin the movie completely, but it kept it from being a great one.
Although there are a few recognizeable faces in this movie like Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill and Johnathan Banks, the focus is almost solely on Liam Neeson. He may be sixty-five years old, but Neeson proves that’s still got both the acting and action chops to carry a movie. You can see what he’s thinking as he balances between average Joe and brilliant problem solver. He also relates to the audience by making them fantasize about how they would want to handle the situation. You simply don’t get tired of seeing him on-screen, even though he’s never absent for a single scene. To me, that’s talent.
The Commuter had one of the more clever introductions I’ve seen in a while. Director Collet-Serra expertly develops a family dynamic while simultaneously illustrating the mundane nature of a daily commute. Unfortunately, this film isn’t without its shortcomings. Most notable is the overuse of a hand-held camera during non-action scenes. I can sometimes forgive that when there’s a lot going on. But do I need to feel like I’m floating around our characters while having a conversation in a bar? It’s unnerving and completely distracting.
The Commuter is better than I expected, but not one I would encourage you to rush to the theater to see. The first two-thirds completely had me, but the ending left something to be desired. It’s still worth it to watch Liam Neeson in a role that’s perfect for him. Sometimes you need a good old-fashioned thriller that almost makes you want to be part of the action. I’d just recommend enjoying that action as a rental or even a cable viewing.