Liam Neeson rides again in 'The Commuter'

Lloyd Doyle
January 12, 2018

Again, Neeson's weathered hero carries out his covert, life-or-death task amid an audience of initially unsuspecting everymen and -women, whom Collet-Serra sketches with Cliffs Notes efficiency: a pink-haired college student (Florence Pugh) bickering with her boyfriend; an old-timer (Jonathan Banks, last seen in Mudbound) who chats fondly about the Yanks and the Sox; a preening, Bluetooth-connected power broker (Roland Moller) with a stint at Goldman Sachs on his resume. 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. This is basically just Liam Neeson telling you to turn right, turn left, or make a U-turn. The whole film is really just another excuse for Liam Neeson to bring his action bravado to the screen.

Then comes a seemingly random meeting with a stranger (Vera Farmiga) on the train, who offers him a get-rich-quick scheme that comes with ominous stipulations. The mechanics of how MacCauley must find the target are overcomplicated and increasingly unbelievable (even for a film like this), with Joanna somehow enjoying nearly godlike powers of surveillance, and the 60-year-old MacCauley undergoing a series of physical challenges that would most likely best a man of 40, let alone an ex-cop who's still in reasonably good shape but has been behind a desk for 10 years (Neeson, to his credit, could do this stuff with his eyes closed but commits to his performance throughout). In function, however, Michael isn't all that different from Neeson's other action/thriller protagonists, and the actor delivers most of his lines with the same gruff voiced intensity that he's fine-tuned since he first demonstrated his "particular set of skills".

Hours before he is to take the train home one day, Michael is fired and given a severance package.

Neeson stars as Michael McCauley, a former NYPD cop turned insurance salesman. Vera Farmiga is by far the best part of the film and she's has less than 10 minutes of screen time.

It's not the worst way to waste a couple of hours on a chilly January afternoon, but The Commuter is easily the least of Neeson and Collet-Serra's quartet of potboilers. The Commuter is above all else the Liam Neeson show, and it wisely never loses sight of that throughout its runtime. The downside is, The Commuter is more interested in getting to the next scene of Neeson punching someone than it is fleshing out its characters or exploring the political overtones of its narrative. Taken wasn't just Neeson's first shot as an action star, it was a badass movie that injected new life into the genre. The pace is such that you might not take much notice of this as the movie barrels toward its climax, and Neeson's presence is so commanding that he nearly single-handedly makes up for all the shortcomings.

The Commuter is out in theaters on Friday, Jan. 12. Here's to hoping Neeson's and Collet-Serra's "Taken On A Boat", or whatever moving vehicle their next thriller takes place on, is equally fun.

Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence and language. We, as men, have got to be part of it, you know?

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