Movie Review : The Commuter (2018)
Liam Neeson is only six months younger than my dad. That means he was already pre-elderly when he suddenly started kicking ass on screen and brought his acting career back from the dead, ten years ago. He’s basically become Clint Eastwood with dignified manners and a taste for old man suits. And I love that. But Neeson is a capable actor and it’s time directors start giving him other parts than the noble-dad-who-can-put-a-bullet-through-your-skull, because you can only be that guy so many times before it starts getting weird. And The Commuter is plenty weird, like an older cousin going through some shit at a family reunion.
So, The Commuter tells the story of Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson), a 60 years old insurance salesman dealing with a brutal commute to work. He’s inexplicably fired one day, leaving him with two mortgages and tuition for his son’s college tuition to deal with on his own. On his commute back home, a stranger (Vera Farmiga) makes him an offer he can’t refuse: $100 000 if he can find a passenger on the train that doesn’t belong and put a GPS tracker in his/her bag. Seems simple enough, but making deals with the devil always leads you down a dangerous road in movies.
This movie is extraordinary in the sense that it doesn’t have any story whatsoever and survives almost exclusively on tropes. There’s a conspiracy to protect, but you’re never told what it is or who’s involved. Even when the antagonist’s identity is revealed, it’s not explained why he’s involved and in what capacity. Michael’s family is said to be “in danger”, but they’re completely absent. They’re never seen under any duress whatsoever. I could go on and on. The Commuter relies on your understanding of mainstream cinema tropes to function, but only features a man searching a train, talking on the phone and battling an ominous cabal of bad guys with neck tattoos.
I would hate The Commuter for being so lazy and exploitative of its audience if it wasn’t so damned honest about not knowing what to do with itself. It constantly changes direction, but not in a good way. For example: Michael is set up to be this career insurance salesman, but suddenly he’s a cop *. Ain’t that convenient? It has a moral dilemma at the heart of its narrative that it immediately invalidates by making Michael not only inherently moral, but also courageous and fast thinking. It’s a taut, Liam Neeson-like thriller for 75 minutes and then everything starts to explode like we’re in a Mission : Impossible movie. The Commuter makes zero sense. It is earnestly incompetent at telling a story, but it’s happy with looking good.
I would recommend watching The Commuter. It’s not conventionally good, but it’s so incompetent that it becomes fun after a while. It provides the same kind of voyeuristic pleasure than seeing your 40 years old male colleague waltzing to work one day with a perm and skintight leather pants. I wouldn’t say it’s better than Taken 2, Taken 3 or even director Jaume Collet-Serra’s previous Liam Neeson obsession movie Unknown, but it sure is more memorable than all of these. It might not be fit for anything else than a Tuesday-night Netflix viewing, but it did change a boring weekday evening into a riotous “oh-shit-I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-watching-that" moment and I can’t fault The Commuter for that.
* That invalidates the whole getting fired angle, by the way. If you were a cop until you were 50 years old, don’t you have a pension to fall back on?