‘The Commuter’ Review: An Honest B-Movie Embracing Its Silliness
Liam Neeson who can be classified as a sub-genre is back with another action thriller. The audience have a particular set of expectations from his post-Taken career: a plot racing against time, swelling despair, and Neeson displaying fighting chops despite his maturing limbs.
His latest, The Commuter hurls another common man in the guise of Neeson. He plays Michael MacCauley, a life insurance salesman who lives a peaceful, mundane life with his wife and kids. He is also a former NYPD detective who takes a train every day to work, and knows a few familiar faces. You know, the train is supposed to act later, you just know it.
The plot sets the ball rolling without wasting minutes, MacCauley gets fired from his job, meets up with his former colleague for drinks and consolation, followed by a meeting with a beautiful stranger in the train. This stranger, Joanna (played by Vera Farmiga with glassy mendacity) is the Faust of the story. She sets him up for a barter: he must find someone in the train who ‘doesn’t belong’ and he can have $100,000 cash in lieu of it.
A Hitchcockian riff, this is a mash-up of Strangers On A Train, Murder On The Orient Express, and any train flick you can think of. The Commuter chugs along well if you don’t dwell too much on the logical holes. As the clock starts ticking, phone starts ringing, and the wheels keep running, Neeson’s MacCauley must find not only a murderer, but also the potential victim to prevent a murder.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra is a man who has shown dexterity in raising thrills and chills by setting his plots in confined spaces, and in how characters make adroit choices to survive. This is his fourth collaboration with Neeson, following Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night.
For a genre fare, The Commuter begins with a brilliant cross-cutting montage that shows the passing of MacCauley’s suburban life, and how routine and dull it is. Like its prototypes of a slim actioner, there are nifty details thrown here and there at the beginning of the film, along with unanticipated literary references.
You don’t expect the ghosts of Bronte sisters, William Golding, Alexandre Dumas, Nathaniel Hawthorne to turn up in a film like this, but they do. But don’t misjudge the sprinkled details, for they matter, and as you go along, you see the dots connecting.
The rest is Neeson doing what he does best, nimbly trying to solve a mystery against never-ending dangers of a running train and landing punches when required. This is an honest B-movie embracing its silliness with full gusto. There is no aspiration for greatness, and scant respect for nuance. It even knows how to laugh at itself, banging a guitar like a weapon.
Neeson’s character keeps stating that he is 60-years-old throughout the film, and the fight sequences surprisingly reveal how age is catching up with the veteran’s creaking bones (even editing acuity can’t hide it). Is he getting too old for this? Hell yes, but it also makes him a vulnerable hero fighting his way out (always a high-concept catastrophe), and a figure to hoot for. Isn’t that enough price for a tub of popcorn?
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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