REVIEW: The Commuter (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Lionsgate

The following is a review of The Commuter — Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

A couple of months ago, when I was getting ready to write about the box office potential of the January 2018-releases, I noted that I had grown tired of the endless supply of Liam Neeson action films. It isn’t that the films are egregiously bad, and they are in no way, shape, or form detrimental to the power of cinema — but each time Neeson has starred in another action film, it almost always felt like a tired retread of Taken

Frankly, it seems like even Liam Neeson has gotten tired of this era of his acting career. In February of 2013, Neeson reportedly told a radio show that: “I don’t think there’ll be a Taken 3.  She can’t get taken again, that’s just bad parenting.” And yet, not long thereafter, the third Taken film was eventually announced. The Liam Neeson-led action-father films have become their own subgenre, and there are probably big fans of all of these films.

But I stopped paying attention a long time ago, and Neeson has even gone as far as to comment on the action-thriller films going too far. At the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, the great actor and action star reportedly said that: “They’re still throwing serious money at me to do that stuff. I’m like: ‘Guy’s I’m sixty-fucking-five.’ Audiences are eventually going to go: ‘Come on.'”

And then The Commuter came around, and it almost immediately piqued my interest. One of the reasons why is obviously that it is yet another action film with an oddly mundane title. First The Accountant, and now The Commuter — what will Hollywood possibly think of next? ‘The Door-to-Door Salesman’?

That is a jokey comment, but the title of this film is intriguing. It doesn’t have some vaguely mysterious or menacing title like A Walk Among the Tombstones or Unknown. What, honestly, really intrigued me about The Commuter was the idea of seeing an action film that acknowledges that Liam Neeson isn’t an action-appropriate age anymore, but which still has a top-notch cast and fun action.

Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Commuter is a film about 60-year-old Michael MacCauley (played by Liam Neeson), a former police officer, who each and every day the last ten years has commuted to work in New York City. But one fateful day, MacCauley is fired from his job as a life-insurance salesman at a point in time when his family desperately needs his paycheck to get by.

As he struggles with how to tell his wife and son that he has lost his job, a mysterious woman (played by Vera Farmiga) walks up to him on the train ride back to his home. She tells our protagonist that she can offer him $100,000, all he needs to do is plant a GPS tracker on a passenger that does not belong on the train. All of a sudden, MacCauley finds himself at the center of a murder conspiracy.

What Jaume Collet-Serra has given us with The Commuter is basically Strangers on a Train meets Murder on the Orient Express with the action of Speed and Taken. And while it absolutely is a silly blend, it somehow works quite well, so that when the film kicked into high gear with unbelievable, over-the-top action sequences, I actually didn’t mind. I quite enjoyed it.

It all starts off quite well, with an introduction that is just so well done. We are treated to an elegantly cut together sequence which emphasizes the monotonous daily routine of a commuter. After the excellent opening sequence, MacCauley is unceremoniously fired, and then a little bit later on Farmiga’s character gives him a lifeline. I thought it was very compelling.

For some, the film will then find itself on the wrong track, as it absolutely does become an absurd Taken-esque action film complete with poor CGI and extremely silly lines of dialogue. Then, of course, we eventually get a “I am Spartacus”-reference, and it becomes even more tough to take seriously at the very end when MacCauley’s heroism is pointed out in excessive fashion.

A fairly compelling action-thriller undergoes a comical evolution to become an absurdly over-the-top action film, but it is just so fun to watch. Although I cannot exactly say that this is a great film, I absolutely will say that this is probably the best Liam Neeson-led action film since the first Taken-film.

The Commuter is a sometimes silly and cheesy action film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a ton of fun to watch. Much to my surprise, I had a silly grin on my face the entire time I was watching the film. It is a cheesy action film, but it is absolutely worth your time.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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