April 13, 2018
Box Office $36.34 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some intense action/violence, and language.
Stars Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill.
The success of Taken paved the way for something of a cottage industry: The Liam Neeson action movie. The formula typically involves Neeson being an unassuming badass as he works his way out of a series of tense situations, often while being taunted over the phone by the bad guys.
From that it seems has sprung a distinct sub-genre: the Jaume Collet-Serra /Liam Neeson action thriller. The Commuter is the fourth film pairing Neeson with the director, following Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night.
That Neeson compares Collet-Serra to Steven Spielberg is but one of several hyperboles thrown around in the bonus materials, but does provide some insights as to why they enjoy working together so often. For his troubles, Neeson is likened by a producer to being a modern John Wayne-type hero, so I guess it all evens out.
In addition to those boasts, in the same one of the Blu-ray’s two short making-of featurettes, which run about 14 minutes in total, the film’s screenwriters have no trouble describing their effort as “Hitchcockian,” so it’s pretty clear no one involved is lacking in confidence or phased by higher expectations.
Commuter seems to takes a lot of its cues from Non-Stop, in that both films deal with a group of people confined on a mode of transportation, and evildoers threatening to destroy the vehicle and kill everyone on it unless Neeson does what they want.
In this case, Neeson plays an insurance salesman and former cop who takes a commuter train in New York everyday. He’s approached by a woman (Vera Farmiga) who proposes a hypothetical situation to him — asking if he would point out a random passenger for $100,000 and then move on with his life without knowing what happened to that person, but with the reasonable assumption they’d be hurt or killed. It quickly turns out her little game is all too real when he discovers the cash stashed in the bathroom.
He also finds he can’t simply walk away, as the bad guys are threatening his family and the rest of the train unless he points out a passenger who seemingly doesn’t belong. Neeson plays along, following the clues to the whereabouts of the mysterious passenger as he tries to work out how to protect that person while also thwarting the plans of a conspiracy that seems to be prepared for each of his counter-moves (one would think a conspiracy as well organized as this one wouldn’t need his help identifying the passenger, but then there wouldn’t be a movie).
He also turns to help from an old cop buddy played by Patrick Wilson, whose character is named Alex Murphy. Viewers can decide for themselves if his sharing a name with the guy who became Robocop constitutes an homage or is simply a distraction.
Anyway, fans of the Neeson formula shouldn’t be too disappointed as it marks off all the boxes on his checklist to produce a quaint, entertaining little thriller.