The Commuter starts strongly with Liam Neeson’s well recognized by now everyman-geriaction figure getting up every morning at 6am to catch the train to work. This shown via a lovely montage of his morning routine where he interacts with his college-bound son and loving wife as they each prepare for their day – day after day after day.
We quickly learn that Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is - at 60 - only 5 years away from retirement (no it’s not his last job on the force – but he is an ex-cop) and that he needs this job to pay for his son’s college and the double mortgage on the house. Every day, for the last 10 years he has been commuting to the city for this job in insurance. And today unfortunately for MacCauley he is made redundant which means he is in a position to listen when an attractive stranger Joanna (Farmiga) asks him a hypothetical question on the commute home. She wants him to (hypothetically) identify a certain passenger on the train who is carrying a bag & plant a device on them. To do this, he will receive $100k. It quickly becomes apparent this is not a hypothetical at all.
Unfortunately from here, over only 105 mins but which feels unnecessarily longer, the movie turns into 4 different kinds of film. It tries to be an action film and when there is violence, it is quite shocking (in the first action scene I actually gasped). However, from there, it is all downhill. The remaining fight scenes are shot from within the confines of the each carriage and as a result the close camera angles and choppy editing make it difficult to tell how much damage is being inflicted on either the perpetrator or the hero. And at the end of the scene, there doesn’t seem to be any real-world toll on MacCauley. He gets a bit bloody and torn up, however he never seems to be that affected by it.
As the movie unfolds, we slowly discover that the woman Joanna is not acting alone and that she is performing on the instructions of the mysterious “they” and it is here the film tries its hand as a conspiracy thriller. “They” want MacCauley to kill the bag-carrying passenger once identified, as he/she/it is a witness to a crime “they” committed. MacCauley is torn over whether to do this as “they” have his wife and son. And he needs the $100k.
This conspiracy thriller then turns into a Speed-esq three-quel where the train is unable to stop and is headed for disaster. When it does derail the film uses some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in recent times (it feels like the entire budget has been spent on the cast). From here the movie turns into a 3rd act where a protracted hostage situation plays out as the police think MacCauley is holding all the passengers captive in one carriage. However he is actually trying to protect the witness (I think – this is not explained very well) which leads to an ill-thought-out “I am Spartacus” moment that had the other reviewers and myself laugh out loud during the screening.
The film ends with “they” being revealed, MacCauley is a hero, everyone lives, and MacCauley is even offered a job on the police force again. Even though MacCauley walked away from the force 10 years ago as it put himself and his family in too much danger. And it’s hard to understand how a police officer could afford the 2 mortgages and the college his son is going to go to. The film ends with MacCauley in a much nicer suit with a badge on another train.
For the Liam Neeson complete-ists out there, perhaps wait till this one is on DVD. For everyone else, what is an initially interesting premise turns into an overlong, overwrought film that tries to be too many things in too many different directions.