Liam Neeson's latest, The Commuter, has arrived and while it succeeds in providing some razzle-dazzle in the action department, it feels way too much like a movie we've seen countless times already. Come inside to check out my full review.
Unpredictable MacGuffin, Extremely Predictable Ending
Commuting. What is usually the dullest affair of our lives becomes an action-packed experience when Liam Neeson does it in The Commuter. Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, an insurance salesman and former cop, who is trying to make ends meet with his Real Estate Broker wife and a son that’s about to go to Syracuse. The Commuter takes place on a particularly bad day when Neeson’s luck runs out. The insurance agency he called home fires him after 10 years, with just 5 years left until retirement. Dealing with this, he meets up with old cop buddies before hopping on the commuter train back, unsure of what he’ll do next.
That is, until he’s approached by a mysterious woman on the train that offers him $100,000 to find one person. This seemingly chance encounter turns into an hour and a half of twists and turns that results in an explosive outcome.
Except, it’s all pretty predictable.
As the title suggests, the most intriguing and unpredictable part of the film is trying to figure who it is that Neeson’s character is trying to find. Brilliant camera work and several red herrings keep the audience from learning the truth until the very end, and when you find out you feel like you should’ve guessed that the whole time. However, that’s where the unpredictability ends.
The rest of the film is mired in predictable twists and turns that are so easy to see coming, a $2 psychic could predict it. At one point, I turned to my buddy and said, “It would be funny if this happened.” and sure enough not 2 minutes later that’s where the movie went. If audiences can predict what’s about to happen, that’s not innovative, that’s not fun. That’s the same movie we’ve seen countless times. You could’ve used the argument that it’s different because Liam Neeson, but that’s just the actor he’s become. Stuck in an endless loop of action movies and Seth MacFarlane cameos. Predictability isn’t the only issue The Commuter deals with and it’s clear that they tried to use the well-done action to cover it all up.
Action That Tries to Hide the Plot Holes
When Liam Neeson isn’t punching or getting punched, the audience seems to get punched in the face from all the missteps and lackadaisical storytelling in The Commuter. For instance, Neeson plays Mac, an insurance salesman of 10 years who is struggling to pay bills with his Real Estate Broker wife. Aside from the blatant fact that two successful people can’t make ends meet is the biggest case of “white people problems” I’ve ever seen in a movie, it gets even stranger when they suddenly reveal that he was once a detective of the NYPD. So we’re all clear, Neeson’s character Mac went from NYPD Detective to Life Insurance Salesman. Now, we have a reason for why he’s the man chosen by this woman to help the criminal organization she represents. Believable, right?
It doesn’t stop there, either. While the entire movie was rich with a bounty of plot holes, they all pale in comparison to the overflowing amount at the end of film. Without spoiling too much, when we find out the MacGuffin has in their possession, it instantly takes down all the corrupt people in New York. Except, we don’t actually know what the person has. We see a case, but that’s about it. Then, after everything is all said and done, Neeson’s family greets him at the ambulance as if they were picking him up from the train station on a normal day. Mind you, this whole ordeal has been well-publicized and their lives were in danger, and yet they talk to him as if the train was just bumpier than normal, and not that a criminal organization was out to kill him and 20+ strangers on a train. “Hiya honey, how was your trip? I heard it was a little bumpy. Have you eaten? I made stew.”.
The Commuter actually starts off very well and has a lot redeeming qualities, but it gets in its own way during the storytelling phase. Granted, no one should go into this movie expecting a profound cinematic experience, but I also didn’t expect to mutter, “Really?!” to myself during every dialogue break.
The Redeeming Qualities
While the issues outweigh the successes, there are a few moments in The Commuter that are well-worth seeing. As it is an action movie, action scenes need to be realistic and fun to watch and, for the most, that’s the case in this film. There are a few fight scenes, but there is one in particular that is exceptional. When Liam gets into a fight on this empty cart, The Commuter simulates a one-shot action scene that is reminiscent of the one in Daredevil season 1. Now, it’s nowhere near that high quality, but it tries to capture that, which is admirable. Additionally, the choreography in this one scene is one of the bright spots of this film.
Also, if you’re going to do a one-shot fight scene, you’ve got to have some pretty good cinematography. With the exception of one nauseating part in a bar that looked like it was an extra scene out of Cloverfield, the cinematography was done well in The Commuter. The subtle glances of each passenger helped fuel the suspicion, the outside shots of the train as Neeson ran through it heightened the suspense, and the time-lapse open made for some enjoyable moments.
A Recycled Action Film
The most disappointing thing about The Commuter is that we’ve already seen it. In fact, we saw it 4 years ago, but it was on a plane. The movie was called Non-Stop and it featured all the same elements that The Commuter has. In fact, Liam Neeson was in that one too and it was directed by the same person Jaume Collet-Serra. They could’ve just used the same characters from Non-Stop for this one and made a universe about one unfortunate man’s run-ins with terrorists and criminal organizations, a.k.a. Die Hard.
What does this tell us, though? It tells us that Neeson is just phoning it in now. He’s now an old action star who does them to earn a paycheck. Heck, they even made his character irish so he wouldn’t need to turn on an accent. If that doesn’t say phoning in, I don’t know what does.
At the same time, the studios are phoning it in now too, by making the exact same movie and hoping no one notices. They aren’t trying to do something new, they are just resting on their laurels and pumping out the same mindless popcorn flicks that follow the same patterns Exposition, Situation, Search, Altercation, Threaten Family, Search, Altercation, Threaten Everyone, Climax, Resolution. That’s literally the pattern EVERY action movie follows and The Commuter is no different..
A Carbon Copy of Nonstop, Only the Vehicle Is Different
When it comes to the mindless action portion of the film, I enjoyed The Commuter very much. However, when they tried to give it a voice, a personality, it just couldn’t get out of its own way. Almost like it had too many thoughts and no way to organize them. The script could’ve used a few more edits and innovation for it to have been successful. Alas, it just gets lumped in with all the other old man action movies of this generation.