Insurance Agent Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) becomes caught up in a criminal conspiracy after he is accosted by a mysterious passenger (Vera Farmiga) on his daily commute.
2014’s Non-Stop, in which Liam Neeson punched his way up and down a plane, was the most enjoyable of the Irish actor’s four collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra. In The Commuter, not much has changed, as Neeson punches his way up and down a commuter train. However, the entertainment and enjoyment present in their previous three films is sorely missing here.
The plot makes little to no sense and Collet-Serra appears to grow tired of telling it around the hour mark. Farmiga’s Joanna offers MacCauley $100,000 on the condition that he protects a certain passenger. The film attempts to tie this into a wider narrative of corruption and unsolved crimes. This not only falls flat on its face, but this expansion of scope hinders the sense of claustrophobia generated by the compact train-carriage setting.
As ever, Neeson gives a fine performance. He doesn’t stray far from his stock action character, but the actor’s talent shines through a very ropey script. The supporting cast, however, do not fare so well. The film wastes its collection of talented character actors. Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks lacks the screen time required to make a proper impression, while Sam Neill and Patrick Wilson barely feature. The biggest disappointment is Vera Farmiga’s Joanna. In a role similar to Kiefer Sutherland as the ‘The Caller’ in 2002’s Phone Booth, Farmiga provides a nefarious voice at the other end of the phone, but the poor quality of the script and convoluted plot diminish her impact.
MacCauley knocks the living daylights out of almost everyone he comes across and the fight scenes are impressive. In the film’s stand-out set piece, MacCauley is attacked by a man wielding a knife. Naturally, our hero retaliates by manically swinging a guitar at him, which makes for highly enjoyable cinema. Unfortunately, The Commuter runs out of steam well before it reaches its destination. A CGI-laden third act almost completely derails the film, as 65-year-old Neeson leaps between the train’s carriages. At this point, suspension of disbelief is out of the window.
While Collett-Serra and Neeson’s previous collaborations could hardly claim to be examples of great action cinema, they were at least entertaining and made some sort of coherent sense. Neither can be said for The Commuter. A turgid, muddled and thunderously dull thriller, that by its conclusion makes you feel like it is you who has spent two hours on the receiving end of Neeson’s savage right hook.
If you ever see Liam Neeson on your train platform, do yourself a favour and don’t get on.