Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Jaume Collet-Serra’s filmography is built on making B-movies that sound tired on paper, but overall come out far better than they should have been under his direction. Mostly serviceable and silly fare, but refined with a pace and occasional depth that allows them something more substantial to inform the folly of their basic components.
The Commuter marks his fourth collaboration with Liam Neeson and a very similar plot to that of the shockingly entertaining Non-Stop back in 2014. Neeson plays Michael MacCauley; a former officer of the law who finds himself trapped in the confined space of a large moving vehicle (in this case a train) and commanded by omnipotent external forces to follow their commands and to locate an individual onboard and plant a GPS tracker on their person. All while attempting to solve the mystery behind who is involved and clearing his name of the misdeeds in the process.
It’s a simple premise that’s been well-worn by this point, and while this doesn’t quite have the ludicrous sense of fun to it that Non-Stop had, everything is kept afloat by the commitment of the leading man and the director behind the wheel.
It’s weird to think that nearly a decade ago the gimmick that Taken was being sold on was that they hired Oskar Schindler to perform in a low-grade action movie, and now his career has caught a second wind on playing up to the character type of an aging former cop with limitless resources and capability taking down terrorists and going on revenge missions. But it’s a performance model he’s very well suited too and he’s unsurprisingly good here.
The direction by Collet-Serra is also impressive even as it ventures into the louder spectacle of its final act, and uses some neat camera techniques to display the action scenes and giving a sense of space to the carriages of the train.
It’s a shame that it feels a little thinner than usual, especially after Collet-Serra’s previous movie The Shallows shattered expectations as a nasty and efficient thriller. MacCauley’s family being held at stake are one of his least interesting motivations, despite the effective opening montage displaying his 10-year routine commute to and from work. The exposition dumps are numerous and distracting, and the initially interesting logic puzzle set-up quickly surrenders itself as the action kicks in and it begins losing track of itself. The third act is also in a sorry state after blowing itself up earlier than expected and then dragging its feet to the expected climax.
There’s also Vera Farmiga as the supposed orchestrator of the social experiment that MacCauley has been roped into, but she leaves the film way too early and robs the film of a plausibly charismatic and compelling presence and antagonist as she spends the remainder of the film communicating over the phone.
The Commuter is another workman-like effort from Collet-Serra, who really is one of the best in the business at delivering on this kind of feature, while also channelling Liam Neeson’s best qualities in this genre. There are expected twists and stabs at commentary, but even if it's not one of their best works together it’s machinery fits together well enough to sustain the ride.