Liam Neeson recently announced that his days as an action star are over, presumably wanting to return to the kind of more highbrow fare he became famous for – Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, etc. Nevertheless, he’s back in cinemas to beat up the bad guys one more time this weekend in The Commuter, which mixes a Hitchcock-esque mystery with the kind of ass-kicking action Neeson has made a name for himself with over the past decade.
Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is a businessman who travels in and out of New York every day to work, accompanied on his commute every day by the same familiar faces. On the day MacCauley loses his job, he’s approached on his journey home by an unfamiliar woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him $100k if he can identify someone on the train “who does not belong” and place a tracker on their bag. She tells him $25k is in the bathroom and that he only has a certain amount of time to identify the person, then leaves the train. MacCauley heads to the bathroom where he finds the money and realises the woman was serious. Then the phone calls begin…
The Commuter stands above other similar Neeson fare – and other train-set action films for that matter (Source Code, Under Siege 2, etc) – by actually having a strong story which is the focus of the film, rather than just Neeson tracking down bad guys and fighting and shooting them. Sure, there is action here, but it’s certainly not the centre of the film (the first fight scene occurs around the halfway mark), and this definitely works to its advantage. Things do get a bit OTT at times in the final third, although for the most part the story and action work well together. This is director Jaume Collet-Serra’s third film with Neeson (their plane-set thriller Non-Stop has similarities with this) and certainly the one with the strongest story. The mystery at the heart of the film takes plenty of twists and turns, helping things remain engaging and often leading quite naturally to the action scenes, which don’t feel shoehorned in.
MacCauley is an ex-cop and has no problem fighting off assailants, but is also a quick-thinking, determined man who must use his wits as often as his fists. Neeson’s already proven himself a great dramatic actor and here seems to enjoy playing a character with a bit more depth than Bryan Mills from the Taken trilogy. The supporting cast are also generally very good – Farmiga doesn’t have an awful lot of screen time but nails the mysterious element of her character, however rising Brit star (and recent BAFTA nominee) Florence Pugh is underused in a role as a fellow passenger on the train that gives her little to do, as is Sam Neill as a cop who worked alongside Neeson on the force. This isn’t really the kind of film you watch for the performances, although it would have been nice for Pugh and Neill’s roles to have had more to them – both are fantastic actors and their strengths aren’t utilised here.
If you’re looking for something original and thought-provoking you’re better off looking elsewhere, however The Commuter is certainly entertaining and provides the kind of thrills Neeson’s fans go to his films for, along with an engrossing mystery that keeps things chugging along. If this is Neeson’s action swansong, it’s a pretty good bang to go out on.
The Commuter is out 12th January