Culture&Arts

'The Commuter' Review: Liam Neeson Gets Taken For A Ride

'The Commuter' Review: Liam Neeson Gets Taken For A Ride

Desperate times, desperate measures-you know the drill. On paper, his character isn't all that interesting, but the level of intensity and earnestness that Neeson brings to every role he's ever taken raise MacCauley - and everything around him, as nearly every cast member is a caricature - to another level. What has followed has been a decade of lean, blunt and glum thrillers (three "Taken" movies, "Non-Stop", "The Grey") anchored by the looming and still quite potent presence of Neeson.

Jaume Collet-Serra, director of Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and the superb shark-amok thriller The Shallows, understands two things well: The enduring pleasures of watching angry sea beasts go to town, and the bruised-lion appeal of the 60-something Liam Neeson.

As The Commuter rattles on, the plot becomes more and more implausible-though again, believability isn't what we've signed on for here. His trains run on time, even if - especially in "The Commuter" - a rush-hour's worth of implausibility eventually wrecks the thrill.

The 65-year-old Neeson portrays the 60-year-old Michael MacCauley, a former NY cop who for the last several years has been selling life insurance inside the Manhattan skyscraper headquarters of an insurance giant.

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But one day is a particularly bad one. Michael says he was sacked "after 10 years" once every 10 seconds. With his savings depleted by the 2008 financial crisis and college tuition coming soon for his high-school graduate son, McCauley's panic is palpable. In other words, the plotting is simple and contrived, but it mostly serves as a shell in which to frame some over-the-top train-based action beats, so if that's what you've signed up to see, you're most definitely in luck.

As it turns out, Joanna's proposal is not merely hypothetical, as Mike receives, in short order, a $25,000 down payment waiting for him in the restroom, and then a message from a street urchin who appears in the train's doorway at the next station, asking him, on behalf of Farmiga's vanishing lady, if he has accepted the assignment. Him or her, and I didn't guess the identity of the witness he must identify. The gaps in the story's logic aren't to be minded. Mike has until Cold Spring station, 50 miles or so up the Hudson, to figure it out.

"The Commuter" is peppered with ridiculousness, from the same lines being repeated ad nauseum, just in case the theater has a gas leak and audience members are too woozy to pick up on them the first 15 times. It's the kind of inaccuracy that will cause untold swarms of strap-hangers to throw their MetroCards at the screen. The production value is fantastic, but it was just stretched a little bit too long. This time instead of walking back and forth on a train, Neeson has to walk back and forth through every auto of a train like a world beaten and put upon Poirot. Even though on the surface Neeson is playing hero, his character is aggressively stalking multiple passengers on a train before playing judge, jury, and executioner for one unlucky passenger. It stays primarily mano a mano, but isn't that the fun of these Neeson films? Perhaps it's a level of nostalgia for the "good ole" days of John Wayne still standing tall despite his age or maybe it's that Collet-Serra thinks that now more than ever we need to be making a statement about what true heroism looks like in 2018.


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