Of all the thriller directors that Liam Neeson has worked with in his latter day reinvention as an action movie star, Jaume Collet-Serra probably knows best how to tap into Neeson’s presence. In The Commuter, Neeson now plays Michael MacCauley, another gentle, worn-down former cop, now an insurance salesman struggling to keep his head above water. In a surprisingly affectionate opening, we see his daily routine unfold across several years, glimpsing his relationship with his family during different moods. It’s an inventive way to establish the character, with an interesting (but very slight) examination of the grind of white collar work.
This routine soon breaks when MacCauley is suddenly fired from his job. As he gets the train home, a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga, playing a dark version of her character from Source Code) asks him to do this one, suspicious thing, promising a big cash reward. The film is at its most complex when MacCauley takes the money – but of course, the stakes are soon escalated, and the film becomes a much more black and white affair. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Collet-Serra finds a multitude of ways to move the camera through the compact space – frequently dollying via composite shot through train carriage doors, and even through the hole in a ticket stub at one point.
Obviously, this film has problems– it’s corny as all hell (for better and worse), and the central mystery hits diminishing returns as the film goes on. But this is also a film with a gloriously silly “I’m Spartacus” moment, and a single-take fight scene where Neeson uses a guitar to KO a bad guy.
An enjoyable, pulpy thrill ride that rises above the usual gamut of throwaway early-year thriller releases, The Commuter is made all the more interesting by exciting, creative work behind the camera from Collet-Serra.
CAST: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill
DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra
WRITERS: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
SYNOPSIS: A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.