If your answer is no, then "The Commuter" is a tense, mildly gripping, and overall satisfying entry in Neeson's ever-expanding action oeuvre. He was crafty with tight shots in his last movie The Shallows, and was again with The Commuter.
That's the dynamic audiences will have to face in this fourth Neeson collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra, which includes the similar 2014 outing Non-Stop, in which Neeson's alcoholic air marshal had to ferret out a criminal mastermind aboard a transatlantic flight. Sure, he's an Academy Award-nominated actor who has played some very meaty roles, but he really found his calling in these dopey action movies.
Liam Neeson stars as Michael McCauley, a former police officer, now a father making his way in the world and providing for his family now as an insurance salesman. In particular, Collet-Serra appreciates that a train is a mass transport most conducive to suspense, and he duly exploits the mechanics of the setting, even while freshening the clichés, such as desperate hand-to-hand combat in the confines of a train auto, with impressive visual effects.
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It's the afternoon of Michael's employment termination that his everyday routine gets shaken up even more so.
MacCauley's mission, as given to him by Farmiga, is to find someone on the train who "doesn't belong", and can only be identified by the fact that they're getting off at Cold Spring and they're carrying a bag. "If I identify him, someone on this train is gonna kill him". It becomes a race against time for the one-time officer of the law to sort out the mystery on the train, save his family from an uncertain fate, and punch a few people in the head for good measure.
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Don't get it wrong; The Commuter is enjoyable as hell, though it's missing that spark that's made Neeson an action star. "You know, it's not superhero stuff, to have a fight on a train". The film plays out precisely as you expect it to, and the reveals of the mystery offer very little of substance.
Liam Neeson has built his late career around being your dad, or rather, the power fantasy that your dad wishes he were. It's probably asking a bit too much for an action movie like this. This isn't to say that the humans in The Commuter act anything like real people; the train is the most realistic performer here, but you could do a lot worse. Even when Neeson isn't darting urgently from carriage to carriage, cinematographer Paul Cameron (working in shades of five o'clock tan that match the muddiness of the puzzle) makes the talkiest scenes antsy with handheld camerawork; the fevered, no-time-to-think atmosphere is maintained by editor Nicholas De Toth. He knows well how to shoot Neeson, following the actor's hulking frame from auto to vehicle. That line might be the most true-to-life element in the whole film. Still, The Commuter gives fans of B-level entertainment exactly what they want, and it's hard to fault any film that does that. The director has done some interesting work outside their thrillers as well (his Orphan is still one of the more bonkers horror movies of the past decade), so it's disappointing to see him and the always watchable Neeson deliver something so rote.
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