By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) wakes up every day at 6:00AM. He has breakfast, says goodbye to his son and wife, and catches the train into New York City to his job as an insurance salesman. We learn this during the opening credits, a kind of Groundhog Day-esque sequence of Michael’s mundane, but comfortable existence.
But when is Liam Neeson gonna kick people’s asses all over a train? We were promised that in the trailer! And where did he acquire the particular set of skills needed in order to do that if he’s just an insurance salesman?
Turns out Michael is a former cop, having quit the force about ten years ago for the insurance gig which was working out pretty well until the financial collapse of 2008. With his son soon going off to college, Michael had to take out a second mortgage on his house and depends on his earnings. But it will be fiiine, and he’s only five years away from retirement.
I’ll give you one guess as to what happens next. No, before he kicks people’s asses all over a train. Yup, he gets laid off.
On the train ride home that very day he encounters a mysterious woman with awesome shoes (Vera Farmiga, the go-to person for transportation-related films) who presents him with a peculiar proposition: identify the one person on the train who doesn’t belong before the train arrives at a certain stop and he will get $100,000. Why that would solve all of his money problems and for someone who has ridden the same train for ten years and knows most of the regular commuters, shouldn’t be too difficult!
“Usually I travel by plane. I prefer to be up in the air.”
But you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true? Well, Michael soon realizes that he really should have just complimented the lady on her shoes and politely declined her offer, because as it turns out – surprise! –this is deadly game. It’s too late though. He already took the bait: a large portion of the cash hidden in the restroom (which is a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve ever found in a Metro-North train’s bathroom) and now he is responsible for the lives of friends, strangers, and his own family.
Yes, this is the part when he begins to kick people’s asses all over a train.
This is Neeson’s fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra (2011’s Unknown, 2014’s Non-Stop, and 2015’s Run All Night) and I’m too lazy to count what number Liam Neeson action hero movie we’re on. So the viewer may already have an idea of what they’re going to get. And The Commuter delivers exactly that. I mean that in a good way.
It’s a suspenseful, thrilling, and fun ride. The combination of the claustrophobic setting and ticking countdown clock creates a frantic tension that never lets up. The pacing keeps everything moving in real-time and puts the audience in Michael’s position, trying to solve the mystery of who the unknown passenger is and what it is they have that is so damn important. It never gets boring and never overstays its welcome.
Neeson commits 100% to a role he really could just phone in at this point and easily pulls off both the mild-mannered family man and the take-no-bullshit-badass we all know will eventually be revealed.
There are a few great stylistic flourishes courtesy of Collet-Serra (opening sequence included), which make the movie feel like it’s more than a generic 90s-inspired blow ‘em up real good dumb action flick.
While Collet-Serra’s style is certainly a high point of The Commuter, I do have one gripe: the shaky cam and fast cuts often make it hard to follow the action and take away from the many well-choreographed fight scenes.
The ending goes…get ready to groan…off the rails (I’m so, so sorry) both with the escalating and far-fetched story developments and Michael’s increasingly ridiculous superhero invincibility. It’s also here where the plot holes start becoming more and more apparent. (This is definitely one of those don’t think too hard about it movies. Really, don’t.) And then everything is neatly wrapped up with Michael never seeming too concerned about the consequences of his actions.
But it’s all okay because it was fun while it lasted.
The Commuter delivers exactly what you expect and want it to. So if you are looking for a big, silly but entertaining break from catching up on the “awards” movies, well, ALL ABOARD!
The Commuter (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Michael mentions that he is 60 years old
Take a Drink: every time a cell phone rings
Take a Drink: every time there is a discussion about a book
Take a Drink: whenever the Goldman Sachs douchebag says something douchey
Take a Drink: every time Michael changes train cars
Take a Drink: for every red herring
Take a Drink: every time someone says “Cold Spring” or “Prin”
Do a Shot: for every casualty