The Commuter review: It’s Liam Neeson on a train in this new actioner from Jaume Collet-Serra.
The Commuter review by Awais Irfan.
Cinema has come to see great actor-director collaborations such as Scorsese and DiCaprio, Tarantino and Jackson over the years and, now, there’s Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson as they work together for their fourth time on The Commuter.
Having worked on Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night together, with their fourth film The Commuter out this weekend, and their fifth in the works, the pairing of Collet-Serra and Neeson has certainly been pretty entertaining thus far and one that doesn’t look like slowing down; those 3 aforementioned films, whilst not ground-breaking, are fairly enjoyable action-flicks – it’s a refreshing partnership in the B-rate action genre that works for what it needs to. However, whilst The Commuter certainly boasts a promising premise and some cool action, it is easily the weakest of Neeson’s recent films and the worst of the Collet-Serra/Neeson slate so far. Our leading man is Michael MacCauley, an insurance broker who has been getting the same commuter train to work every day for 10 years. But when the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offers him $100,000 to locate someone and put a tracking device in their bag (refuse or fail and his family gets murdered), MacCauley finds his peaceful and quiet life and everyday train journey home all spiral out of control.
Comparisons to the duo’s Non-Stop are almost a given (there’s the joke that is just ‘Non-Stop on a train’) given the similarities between them both but, thankfully, this doesn’t just feel like a lazy rehash. The Commuter certainly borrows elements from its plane-set-sibling but it does from all its counterparts too (the noir of Run All Night; the grit of Unknown), except it just feels like a weaker concoction. In the hands of the pair, this is a story that could – and should! – work but it becomes awfully tedious. The location restriction makes for a very visually bland and uninspired film and there’s a mundanity that weighs down the proceedings; it’s just boring. The characters are all so lacklustre and dull and there’s a lot of time spent on establishing them and establishing MacCauley and focusing on his moral and financial dilemma before things actually get into swing and, whilst it has worked for Collet-Serra’s other films, the writing here just feels so mawkish and the characters so weak that we simply don’t care for them and it makes for a very dry, uninteresting, slow watch.
Related: Run All Night review
Once the action does eventually kick into gear, though, it’s brilliantly entertaining. Whilst there seems to be an odd over-reliance on shaky cam and handheld, it can feel a little frenetic at times; for the most part, however, it’s competently helmed and well-choreographed to make for some very intense and exciting action set-pieces – the lack of location works here in adding an atmosphere of claustrophobia to the sequences and a solid tension to them too, as a result. It’s a film that does spiral out of control, though, continually getting more and more implausible and riddled with plot-holes as the runtime proceeds which takes away from the realism the film had going for it in the first act. But Neeson is, as always, great in the role and makes the most of the underwritten character he is given and whilst the supporting work is fine, the likes of Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Sam Neil all feel so underutilised and unnecessary.
The Commuter has its moments; it’s entertaining and cool, but in small and scattered bursts. Liam Neeson is, expectedly, great and his charm adds loads to the proceedings and he works superbly in the environments that Jaume Collet-Sera puts him in – it’s always fun watching him kick ass. But sadly, this film feels all too uneven and boring to really stick the landing quite the way the pairing’s other collaborations have done and quite the way that this film could have done too. As far as mind-numbing popcorn flicks go, you would just be better watching Non-Stop, Run All Night or Unknown because The Commuter is a film that runs out of steam way too quickly to be the entertaining slice of gritty B-rate action it wanted to be.
The Commuter review by Awais Irfan, January 2018.
The Commuter is released in UK cinemas on Friday 19th January 2018.