Jaume Collet-Serra (director)
19 January 2018 (released)
A person just going about their business suddenly plunged into a world of intrigue, suspicion and violence while not totally original is nevertheless generally good for getting the grey matter working. If there are some action sequences so much the better. Unfortunately, The Commuter forces more of a mental lockdown, and doesn't come close to either Strangers on a Train, or Train to Busan on either the psychological or action stakes.
Liam Neeson is Michael McCauley an ex-cop now working in insurance. His daily commute takes him from the suburbs of New York to the centre of the city. It’s a daily grind and he’s got to know the regulars and the train staff so making the journey bearable. One morning he’s called into the office and given his cards.
He’s got two mortgages and children going to college, so in deep thought about how to tell his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern in a tiny role) he starts the journey home. He’s approached by Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who after some pseudo psychological chit-chat gets down to business and makes him an offer of a lot cash quickly, that in his present circumstances he can’t refuse. There’s also the matter that his wife and son will be killed if he mucks up.
He has to find someone on the train with very limited information, just couple of clues and a name. He also has some very strict instructions. She knows all about him and his circumstances. He agrees but a cock-up and a vivid demonstration that they have him under surveillance and he’s up to his neck in bodies, fights and runaway trains.
It's generally ok but feels very stale. After the initial intrigue of the offer, it just doesn’t deliver on one crucial level, suspense. Neeson doesn’t know who the target is or who is watching him, it could be anyone on the train. However, this potential for tension and paranoia is poorly developed, if at all. The camera dutifully drifts over faces and eyes of the passengers but at no time is there any real sense of threat.
It’s robustly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and the action sequences are what you’d expect though the roaming, poking camera does become annoying. Neeson is right up for it, leaping and hanging under fastmoving trains on top of some snappy punch-ups. However, the script overall is poor and the sequence towards the end that harps back to that scene from Spartacus, is just plain dumb.