“This train’s freaking me out.” – Gwen, The Commuter (2018)
I’ve never been an overly huge fan of action oriented movies. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good handful of them, but I’ve never been a die hard fan. For the record, I am a Die Hard (1988) fan, I’m just not a die hard fan of action movies. Either way, Liam Neeson isn’t an actor I’ve seen in the action genre. Obviously I saw his Oscar nominated performance in Schindler’s List (1993), but other than that, I can’t really think of anything else I’ve seen him in.
Hell, it was probably a good thing that I was going into this movie blind, right? Having not seen Taken (2008) or any other Neeson action movies, there’s a sense of genuine mystery surrounding what I was to expect. One of the biggest surprises is how consistent Neeson’s acting is. He’s got a great appeal to him, one that’s rare in a reliant action star these days. Remember when Steven Seagal was in his heyday? Neither do I, but Neeson has the same star quality surrounding him that turns him into a reliable action man. On the whole though, I like Neeson as an actor. He’s nowhere near a favourite, but that’s mainly due to not viewing many of his films. But if he’s going to put out films like this on a consistent basis then I’ll absolutely be a returning viewer.
As far as the rest of the cast go, it’s packed to the brim with heavy hitters. Jonathan Banks from Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) fame appears very briefly. Sam Neill from Jurassic Park (1993), Patrick Wilson of The Conjuring (2011) and even Vera Farmiga, again from The Conjuring (2011), also shows up. It’s a very bold cast and a lot of the big names are only in the film for brief portions of time. But that’s more than enough to draw in fans of said cast members. They all played their supporting roles excellently well, with Neeson considerably bolstered by both the cast and their performances.
Still, it’s not solely down to Neeson’s credibility as an actor. The direction of the film is surprisingly solid and actually quite good at times. The opening montage of Neeson’s morning routine is blended very well together, showing the ups and downs of his life and marriage. It’s an excellent way of introducing us to a character we’re going to spend a significant amount of time with. On a general level of cinematography, it’s a very good looking film. Me and my Dad have always joked about how Taken 4 would take place on a train, and here we are.
That’s not to say The Commuter is perfect though. It suffers from the expected problems of pretty much every single action movie ever released. The plot in the first act does sputter a bit and struggles to get going, along with an expected number of cliche action lines that would put the work of Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame.
To be fair, I was probably wrong to call this one an action film, right? Because if anything, it’s more of a thriller or a drama or something in that vein. What action is available is limited and toned down to the point where it’s underwhelming. One or two larger setpieces are put into place but nothing that would appeal to a hardcore action movie fan. If you’re expecting another Snakes on a Plane (2006) style film then you’re out of luck. As far as the film goes, it’s very methodical and simplistic. It’s a simple whodunnit adventure and it works inspiringly well given the source material. With Neeson playing a very convincing role, what’s not to like?
See, it’s one of those films where my memory is rather patchy on the details. That’s no fault but my own, my memory has really taken a beating over these past few years. I think I could probably watch The Commuter and get a similar experience as I did the first time. Only the best of films can manage such a feeling. The idea that you can watch a mystery film, already knowing the outcome, and still feel a connection of genuine surprise is a hard feeling to create, and one that should be praised when accomplished.
The film never feels as if it’s doing something for the sake of shock value. One or two decisions may make or break your opinion on the film, but the main bulk of the movie is overly positive in how it progresses. In regard to the villains of the piece, it does seem a bit over the top and unbelievable at first, however once Neeson’s motif changes, it all begins to fall into place rather well. But, there is one scene in particular that stops this movie reaching a perfect five star rating. That for me was towards the end when the train inevitably crashes. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean. It is, to put it bluntly, fucking mental.
Liam Neeson to me is like the reliable old car you’re never too sure on. Sure it’ll break down every now and then and star in shit like Battleship (2012), but we can overlook that for all the gems he manages to bring us. He’s an incredible talent and much needed addition to the acting genre on the whole. The Commuter is possibly one of the best Neeson movies of all time, quickly surpassing a large range of his other, more successful movies. I’m not sure why The Commuter received a moderately quiet release, presumably because it’d have been clumped together with other action movies. However The Commuter is so much more than an action movie, it’s a genuine murder mystery thriller.
Sure, some of the twists and turns along the way are expected, but a good mystery keeps you guessing up until the very last second, and that’s exactly what The Commuter does. It avoids the expected pitfalls and outcomes you would be assured of happening, instead opting for a much more volatile experience. That’ll absolutely alienate a considerable chunk of the audience, but it’s worth sticking with just to see the outcome of it all.