By Robert Milarvie
Oh yes, it is here. Our usual dose of Liam Neeson action – we’ve all missed him shouting down a mobile phone in one way or another. The Commuter focuses on the titular ex-cop turned life insurance salesman Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson) whose own life is collapsing around him. An opening montage of the days bleeding together and financial struggles raises an interesting existential portrayal of a white middle-aged father. Interesting on a thematic level, on a technical level however, the nauseating rapid cuts and jarring camera movements resembled something akin to Cloverfield instead of its attempted rehash of The Girl on the Train.
Anyhow we are introduced to the regular commuters Neeson interacts with on his way to and from work. The world is passing him by and the one thing holding his family life together is his job. He is then abruptly shown the door and now the final pillar holding him financial afloat has been destroyed. On his train home, Neeson is approached by a suspicious woman, played by Vera Farmiga, who says he can have $100,000 if he can track down an anonymous individual on the train, with the only clue being the station they will depart onto. He has no idea the repercussions of what will happen to the person if and when he discovers them but his financial clout looms large.
Similarly, to Richard Kelly’s amusing oddity The Box, where a couple will receive a million dollars if they press a mysterious red button but someone unrelated to them will die – The Commuter hopes to carry a similar weight of an existential crisis for our lead character. But all that set-up is then abandoned for Liam Nesson to do Liam Neeson-y type things. Things we’ve seen before in such cinematic artefacts as the Tooken Trilogy: punching people, breathing heavily and yelling down the phone telling someone not to hurt his family – you know, the classics.
The Commuter cynically makes a last-ditch attempt to pass off some emotion upheaval with Neeson exclaiming the outlandishness of his entire ordeal both on and off the train during a poker game with two other passengers. This moment simply passes by with no real poignancy or impact. That emotional train had long left the station given the last forty minutes had consisted of Neeson wandering up and down the train, punching people and performing some of the most awkward dialogue of recent memory.
The dower gloss of The Commuter became a distracting feature as the film plodded along. The slick artificiality of the backdrop reminded a lot of Neeson’s other classic performance in the Phantom Menace. The dark sheen and lack of place was one of the many failings of The Commuter. The sense of space, the congestion, the claustrophobia as the plot escalates and Neeson’s time dwindles hoping to find this mysterious figure is sorely lacking. But don’t worry, he punches people on a fair few occasions.
With Non-Stop (2014), The Commuter (2018) and Unknown (2011) part of Neeson’s schlocky popcorn-thrilling trifecta – you could say it’s his very own