Film Review: The Commuter (2018)

2018 in Cinema:

The Commuter, 2018

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill

 

Michael (Liam Neeson, The Phantom Menace) is a regular commuter on a New York train until he has a really unfortunate day (being sacked from his job and having no money for his son’s college tuition or their home) and that commute home sees Joanna (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring) approach him and offer him a $25,000 down-payment to place a hidden tracker on a passenger, with no details of who the passenger is except their destination and code-name. Should he complete the mission (not knowing what will happen to the passenger) he will receive another $75,000 afterwards. He finds, and takes, the $25,000 and then his family are threatened by Joanna’s team, and he’s forced to play the game.

This is a fine popcorn action film, with sound performances from all those involved and a pretty nice alteration to the genre: he’s stuck for the whole time on a moving train and has to negotiate who the passenger is amongst a whole host of train passengers. Adding that layer of a mystery to an action film for me heightened its enjoyment, and the closeness of the train, helped with a hand-held camera style recording, really help portray the claustrophobia of not just the location but his situation. However the film seems confused about its own history. Michael plays a 60-year-old man (and we know this because he mentions it one or four times) who has been in insurance sales for a decade, meaning he started at 50. His own story in the film was that he came from Ireland at 42 shortly after his father died, and there’s also mention of him spending six years in the police force partners with Murph (Patrick Wilson, The Conjuring). It’s a nice background to his character, which wasn’t necessarily needed, but it also raises the question of why the police force would hire a 40-something man, let alone partnering him with a early-20-something man (Murph tells us he’s 40 so that places him at most 24 by the time Michael joined the police). Either men should have been given a more seasoned-partner, logically, yet the film doesn’t try to answer any of these issues. It feels as if the police background is only there to serve the purpose of it being believable that a 60-year-old man can fight (and he has at least three serious fights), but he’s been in insurance sales and a happily married man for a decade, meaning surely his body would have deteriorated physically, and he even fights a police officer and an FBI agent in this film and comes out relatively victorious. I just felt that, despite Liam Neeson being a very talented actor, he was the wrong choice to play this film. He needed to be 40-something, not 60. Also, there’s a scene where he borrows a phone and makes a call, but after handing the phone back the owner moans because he’s ruined the battery; now, my former Samsung phone had a poor battery but it’s not believable that Michael’s call warranted that response.

It also isn’t very logical time-wise in their universe, as Joanna makes a couple of phone calls to tell him to look in specific directions; how has she moved so quick after leaving the train, how can she see him from so many places and know exactly where he should look? It serves well for the action-film genre, but not in a logical film. But, as I said, it’s a mindless action film with some really nice fight sequences, a character with a nice background and a story which is slightly different to all the other popcorn action films these days. He’s not jumping from one building to another, he’s navigating from one cart to another. He’s not got a gun and killing any evil henchman in his way, he’s generally conflicted with his choices (to kill to save his family). And, despite my protestations at the choice, he’s not a young good looking male, he’s a veteran family man down on his luck. There’s a lot more to this film than I thought of going in and it was quite refreshing to see. It’s a fine film with fine acting and a pretty fine plot, albeit not much logic placed into its own background.

 

Plot: * *               Acting: * * *                       Writing: * *                         Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * * 1/4

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