FILM REVIEW – THE COMMUTER. With Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill. Written by Byron Willinger & Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language. 104 minutes.
Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is not having a good day. An ex-cop who has been selling life insurance, he lost most of his savings in the 2008 crash, he’s got a son going off to college, and – at age 60 – he’s just lost his job. Not your typical action hero by any means, but someone all-too-familiar in the real world. Things are about to get a lot worse.
The premise of THE COMMUTER is preposterous, but no more so than “Speed” (1994) or “Phone Booth” (2002). On the train home, Michael encounters a woman who calls herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and who strikes up a conversation with him, echoing the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Strangers on a Train” (1951). She offers him the chance to make a $100,000 by locating someone named “Prynne” who is on the train, and placing a tracking device in the bag the person is carrying. The only thing he’s told is that the person is not a regular on the train. Oh, and if he wants to see his wife and son alive he’ll do as he’s told.
He tries to notify the police, but Joanna seems to be one step ahead of him, telling him that he’s the one responsible for the bodies that start piling up. It’s a convoluted plot, to be sure, and you just have to go with the flow and not question exactly how Joanna knows what he’s up to even though she’s no longer on the train. That she’s not working alone is obvious, but it would take an evil genius to manipulate things as she does here.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, in his fourth outing with Neeson (after “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” and “Run All Night”) is adept at keeping things moving so quickly that you don’t have time to question the proceedings. When Michael discovers a body hidden beneath the floorboards, it leads to him ending up outside the moving train and having to get back in. It’s a bravura action sequence where it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself wondering how a 60-year-old insurance salesman has both the mental and physical capacity not to end up torn to pieces.
The film is really all Neeson, but he is surrounded with a solid cast including Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”) as a fellow commuter, Patrick Wilson as his ex-partner, and Sam Neill as the too-slick police captain who has an unspoken history with Michael. Suffice to say there are red herrings galore, with plenty of suspects including an obnoxious broker with Goldman Sachs (Shazad Latif) who provokes the most populist line in the movie.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about “The Commuter” is that Neeson, who is actually 65, started out as a serious actor and now has a wide range of roles from drama to comedy to voiceover work to action star. For aging Baby Boomers, Neeson is an inspiration. It’s never too late to branch out, even if it means hanging from the side of a train.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, MA.