We all know what’s coming when we go watch a Liam Neeson movie. They seem to be written, directed and produced by the same people since the popular “Taken” franchise began. We expect to see Neeson kick ass, take names, and hunt some poor soul down and beat him into a pulp. You just know there will be a few bodies along the way. The Commuter is from the same mold as all other Neeson movies from the past decade. The main question viewers have going in to this movie is, “does it still hold up, even if we know what’s coming?”
Neeson plays 60-year-old and soon to be retiree, Michael MacCauley; an Insurance Salesman who takes the daily commute into NYC from Upstate on the Hudson North Line. MacCauley finds himself having a hell of a bad day that gets worse during the long ride home. He meets a woman who then leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole with a strange proposition. Being a man severely down on his luck and seeming to be inching towards rock bottom, he reluctantly accepts.
What ensues might surprise you, because it’s actually a lot more detective work than standard kick-ass action sequences. A familiar sight comes to the screen as he gets a hold of a phone and lets someone know what kind of trouble they’re in for if they mess with his family. He’s told to find a person on the train who has something of interest and his task is to tag them with a GPS unit. Sounds innocent enough; until he learns that person will be tagged for murder after they depart at the final stop. When I heard he was looking for someone named Pren, I was expecting some blatant profiling to ensue, and it does.
Along the train ride, a few twists and turns take place to keep you on your toes. The guessing game of finding out who is Pren is really the best part of this movie. The ending is very predictable and the production itself wasn’t very extravagant. 80% of the movie takes place inside a few train cars and probably didn’t cost much to make. There’s a weird bloodlust from fans of Liam Neeson movies recently and this movie doesn’t particularly satisfy that itch. SPOILER ALERT: Would you believe me if I told you he only kills one guy? I wouldn’t have believed it either. Perhaps Neeson is getting too old to carry a shallow action movie where he plays a hardened badass; or perhaps audiences are just tired of being force-fed the same old recycled storylines and action sequences.
Where The Commuter separates itself from the others is that it is equal parts action and suspense. It makes up for its predictability with a “who-dun-it” storyline as the base of the plot. The screenplay was a Frankenstein splicing of tried and true action film staples, like a round of poker with a potential villain, speeding train, lowly employee heroically sacrificing himself, and classic betrayal. The main character comes off as just a crazy old man on the train, something you might expect to see any given day on an NYC train.
The story doesn’t allow for viewers to develop a personal relationship with hardly any of the characters, so it’s hard to point out a favorite. It was nice to see Mike from Better Call Saul in a short cameo; I would have loved to see him more. The main issue I had with the movie is there is no real tangible antagonist to root against. Much of the movie, the protagonists just call the bad guys “They” or “Them”. No set up and no background to give you a sense of what’s going on.
You usually have a specific mindset and expectation when going to watch a Neeson move. You expect to see a lot of violent chase scenes and dark alley fights in exotic locations. The Commuter doesn’t deliver on those and only gives you the aging actor in one set. It’s lazy and full of a ton of plot holes. I was bothered when I saw NYPD city cops at the end of the movie in a standoff near the supposed end-of-the-line, which would be hours away from the city. I give The Commuter a 6. It isn’t horrible, but it won’t be winning any awards next season.