Movie Beat: Liam Neeson offers satisfying turn in “The Commuter”
By Jenniffer Wardell
Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language
Screenplay by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle, story by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
If a movie is the same thing you’ve seen a thousand times before, does that necessarily make it bad?
Given the fact that the majority of Liam Neeson’s movies now involve him beating people up and acting like a crazy person while trying to protect his family and/or some random innocent, that’s a question worth asking. If your answer is no, then “The Commuter” is a tense, mildly gripping, and overall satisfying entry in Neeson’s ever-expanding action oeuvre. Though the overall plot is both more predictable and less deep than it pretends to be, the action scenes are good and there are even a few nice character moments. Action Man Liam Neeson ™ is familiar company by this point, but if you liked him before you’ll certainly like him here.
After opening with a montage meant to highlight the daily routine of a family man who works an office job, the movie follows Neeson’s character into work on the day he’s unceremoniously laid off. A drink with a former partner reveals that Neeson is an ex-cop who quit the force to go into insurance, and most of the rest of the movie is set on the commuter train he takes home from work. While there, a mysterious woman offers him a lot of money to find an unidentified passenger on the train. That is, naturally, when things get complicated.
Those familiar with Neeson’s work will be able to predict fairly easily how the story goes, especially those who have seen “Non-Stop” (the biggest difference between the two movies is the mode of transportation). If you’re only a casual viewer of either Neeson’s action movies or action movies in general, there should be a few solid surprises throughout.
Unlike other action movies, however, the movie also seems to be attempting some kind of commentary on the human condition. It’s not terribly successful, for a variety of reasons, though the concept does lead to a nice moment near the end of the film.
Action fans might be disappointed that the fight scenes are relatively late in coming, though all of them are good when they do arrive (the last one in particular has a few touches of genuine cleverness). They balance the fights scenes here slightly better than in the action movie, which lowers the amount of obviously spectacular-looking moves but makes the entire fight more engaging overall.
Liam Neeson is the same character he always plays in his action films, a seemingly mild-mannered and slightly hapless man who can turn utterly ferocious when circumstances require it. He’s started to slip into the role as comfortably as Bruce Willis used to take on his own action persona, and though there’s no variety in it his performance is as satisfying as ever. Vera Farmiga is reliably creepy in her own role, and Patrick Wilson offers up a solid turn as Neeson’s former partner.
In the end, “The Commuter” is the cinematic version of mashed potatoes and gravy – the same thing you’ve had a thousand times before, but satisfying all the same.