By Adam Brannon
Film Reviewer from Movie Metropolis for What’s on Hub
Liam Neeson is this generation’s formidable action hero. From protecting his family in Taken and protecting his family in Run All Night, to protecting his family in Taken 2, and you know, protecting his family in Taken 3, Neeson is a family man if ever I’ve seen one.
Teaming up with director Jaume Collet-Serra for the fourth time, the rather excellent Non-Stop being their best work together, Neeson takes the action and moves it on-board, you guessed it, a commuter train. But does The Commuter work? Or are we starting to get derailed by these constant action roles?
Insurance salesman Michael (Neeson) is on his daily commute home, which quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger (Vera Farmiga), Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding, and he is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death stakes for everyone on the train.
The premise is a borderline carbon copy of what we saw in Non-Stop, but with Neeson battling a series of bad guys on a train instead of in the air, and while it is at times, ridiculous, it’s directed with the usual Collet-Serra sense of style that would make even a dog food commercial look intriguing.
Where last year’s Murder on the Orient Express opted for opulence and fairly static camerawork, here The Commuter utilises every part of the train to its advantage. From underneath the carriages, to through the windows and even cleverly framed through a ticket stub, Collet-Serra’s direction is unique, if a little over-stylised at times.
Casting wise, Neeson is the perfect choice to play the world-weary protagonist with a very special set of skills, after all, it’s a role he has been playing for many years now. Some might say typecast, I prefer to think of it as knowing what he wants. Elsewhere, Vera Farmiga is a disappointingly underused presence and it would have been nice to see her a little more throughout the fairly taut 105-minute running time. It’s also nice to see Sam Neill back on the big screen and he remains dependable company.
The action is choreographed well considering the limitations of the set and while it’s clear that the carriages have been manipulated during some of the fight scenes, it’s still impressive to think of all the camera equipment being squeezed into a fairly small space. There’s always been something oddly satisfying at seeing 65-year-old Neeson taking down a group of ruffians half his age and that shows no sign of dissipating any time soon.
Unfortunately, it appears that the limitations of the set also manifested themselves in limits to the script. There are numerous scenes of Neeson pacing up and down the carriages with very little dialogue and while this worked reasonably well in Non-Stop, the result is less successful here, probably due to a less engaging supporting cast.
And while the cinematography is very clever indeed, the low budget, less than $20million in fact, means some of the CGI and special effects leave a lot to be desired, especially towards the film’s climax. It’s a shame that Collet-Serra wasn’t given slightly more to work with as his ingenious camera trickery is at odds with the poor CG.
Overall, The Commuter is another thrilling slice of popcorn entertainment from Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson. At 65-years-old, you’d think everyone’s favourite Irish actor would want to be settling down into cosier rom-com territory and who could blame him? I’m just thankful he’s not. The Commuter may be utterly ridiculous and completely unoriginal, but you’ll have a blast watching it.
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Our score: ★★★☆☆
Watch if you liked: Non-Stop, Taken, Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 123.
The Commuter is showing now at Odeon Cinema, Hull