Liam Neeson said fairly recently that he was set to retire from the action genre, so it was only fitting that another action film starring him was set to be directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. But when you see a name like Jaume Collet-Serra is behind the camera, you can only expect he can make a simple premise seem entertaining enough even if it isn’t set to last fairly long. Nevertheless he’s also shown himself to be at his best working with Liam Neeson as proven by Unknown and Non-Stop, so it was among many reasons I was still curious enough to see The Commuter. If this is going to be Liam Neeson’s sendoff from the action genre, it’s disappointing – but nonetheless it’s entertaining to see him getting into action as if he were young, then again it was what I expected.
Neeson stars as Michael MacCauley, a former NYPD detective who is caught within a repeating daily routine that includes his daily commute to his office and his own job as an insurance salesman. On one train ride home, he meets up with a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who proposes him with a test. In this test, he is offered money on the condition that he finds someone else who is on board the train by the name of “Prynne.” After Joanna departs, Michael soon realizes that he has gotten himself tangled into a criminal conspiracy that has soon went on to threaten the lives of his own family and strangers around him – and he finds his own morality put to a test.
I feel like there’s a degree to which Jaume Collet-Serra’s own movies can work perfectly but he doesn’t seem to have much grasp on going beyond that. His films play out like entertaining B-movies, but one moment comes where they try to feel smarter than they really are and soon that joy slowly fades away. There’s a clear example being made from the revelation about Esther in Orphan which in turn undermines a terrific performance by a child actor, alongside the final sequence of Non-Stop – so has Collet-Serra really gotten past that yet? I thought after The Shallows he would have went beyond his attempts at being pseudo-clever but the notion that The Commuter reminds you of from its opening, with the daily routine of Neeson being shown from the editing and the idea of “everything being a test” quickly can throw oneself off because it just further convolutes a simple story – and we have another one of those ridiculous plot twists coming here.
But knowing that you’re watching a film by Jaume Collet-Serra you can’t expect a mind-blowing story because it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter because of how he designs an action scene, because the production design for such sequences along with the editing still keep the work engaging. Liam Neeson’s onscreen presence within the action genre is as entertaining as you’d ever expect it to be, together with Vera Farmiga’s vocal presence placing a Big Brother-esque authority over what goes on in the commuter train in which the whole film is set within. For these reasons I do think it’s easy enough for myself to defend Jaume Collet-Serra when it comes to how he directs tension, but he can’t seem to hold onto it long enough to make for something greater since I’m not sure he’s aspiring to reach out there.
This movie if anything still makes a case as for why I’ll continue defending Jaume Collet-Serra as an action director, but only if he knows his limits. Like most of his films, The Commuter is an entertaining romp that can effectively burn away a little under two hours, but if you’re expecting beyond such then I’m afraid it’s already too much. I think that seeing Liam Neeson fighting someone with a guitar in an empty train car should be enough to sell oneself in on admission, because said sequence shows where Jaume Collet-Serra works best within the genre he’s working within. Then of course he thinks he has so much more, and it ruins the flow – but somehow the mess is what makes The Commuter entertaining.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Lionsgate.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
Produced by Andrew Rona, Alex Heineman
Starring Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill, Florence Pugh
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 105 minutes