Jaume Colet-Serra (director)
21 May 2018 (released)
25 May 2018
Liam Leeson is about to embark on the thrill ride of a lifetime when he enters the same commuter train from work which he has taken for years though it is a thrill ride which he will remember for all the wrong reasons.
Michael MacCauley (L. Neeson) works as a life insurance salesman for a firm in Midtown Manhattan. He lives with his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and their teenage son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) in Tarrytown where he takes the Hudson Line to the Grand Central Terminal. It’s a routine commute which Michael undertakes five days a week – Monday to Friday, only on this particular day his smartass boss reveals that after ten years of loyal and hard service to the company, Michael is fired. No specific reasons are given though it is hinted that Michael’s age (60) might be one factor. The news is particularly shattering for Michael because he and his wife still have a mortgage to look after and initially he cannot find the courage to call her and break the sorry news to her. Instead, he hooks up with friend and former colleague Det. Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) for a couple of pints in a bar and we learn that before he started work as a insurance salesman, Michael worked for the NY police force. After re-assuring Michael that he will always help him out, Murphy suggests that Michael simply tell his wife the truth. Also in the bar are Police Captain David Hawthorne (Sam Neill) and some of his colleagues, though it quickly becomes apparent that Murphy has a dislike of Hawthorne for reasons not explained.
After Michael enters the Hudson Commuter Line for one last time, a woman approaches him and introduces herself as Joanna (Vera Farmiga). She strikes up a conversation by pretending that she is interested in psychology and different ‘types’ of people and how they would react to certain questions in certain scenarios. Her hypothetical question to Michael is that if she asked him to do one small thing, which would gain him $25,000 but without knowing the consequences of his actions, would he do it? Intrigued by the fact that a stranger makes him – who has just lost his job – a ‘hypothetical’ offer involving money – Michael is interested in finding out more and Joanna replies that the one small thing she wants Michael to do is to locate an unknown passenger on the train called Prynne and plant a GPS tracker on her/him…. In return, Michael would find the sum of money in an envelope in one of the train’s bathrooms. Would he do it? Assuming that Joanna may have studied a little bit too much psychology, initially he doesn’t take her question too seriously and doesn’t think much of it when she gets off at one of the next stops. However, curiosity gets the better of him and he does makes his way to the toilet in a certain carriage, only to find indeed an envelope containing the large sum! At the next stop another young women briefly enters the train but only to hand Michael another envelope before she disappears again in the crowd among the platform. When Michael opens the envelope he discovers his wife’s wedding ring. It’s now clear to him that his meeting with Joanna was no coincidence but a set-up. Minutes later she calls and tells him that unless he finds the mystery passenger called Prynne, who is not a regular commuter on this line, then Michael’s family will come to harm. Desperately he engages in a conversation with one of the regular passengers, Walt (Jonathan Banks), a middle-aged man he knows from the daily commute and while talking with him Michael scribbles the words ‘Danger! Call the police’ on the man’s newspaper. When the man gets off at the next stop, newspaper under his arm, Michael follows his steps from the window of his train carriage only to witness in horror as someone pushes the man in front of a lorry… and the chance of calling the police is lost.
Realising just how dangerous his situation is, he has no other choice than to find out who Prynne is though he isn’t easily prepared to plant the GPS tracker without knowing why the people who hold him and his family to ransom want him to find Prynne. Calling his old pal Murphy for help he learns that Prynne is a key witness in a supposed suicide case and that she is on this train to go into witness protection once she gets off at Cold Spring station. Eventually Michael does locate Prynne among the passengers and terrified she tells him that Prynne is just an alias (taken from a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’) and her real name is Sofia. She is in fact a cousin of the city lawyer who apparently killed himself. Sofia then proceeds to tell Michael that she not only is she the key witness to her cousin’s death but she knows that it was murder and that the murder was carried out by someone in the police force…
Suddenly it occurs to Michael as to why he as been set up for the task to track down Prynne, just as it dawn’s on him that whoever is behind paying him to plant a GPS tracker on the girl is adamant to kill her. Michael now faces the dilemma of doing the morally right thing and save Prynne from certain death – but at the cost of his own family’s life – or save his family from being killed but by doing so sentencing Prynne to death by assassination… and if it means that the entire train will need to be derailed by the would-be killers…
Faced with the impossible, the former policeman’s mind suddenly goes into overdrive in order to save his family, Prynne and his fellow passengers from a terrible fate. What follows is a bare-knuckle ride filled with thrills, action worthy of a James Bond flick, and a showdown that full of twists and turns.
Neeson is in top form as a man who suddenly finds the courage of a lion when forced to make decisions concerning life and death – a man whose life had crumbled in the morning but who ended up a hero by nightfall. Adam Nagaitis in the role as train conductor Jimmy offers some comic relief while fellow passenger Andy Nyman (as Tony) tries his best to keep Michael’s head cool. Shazad Latif’s turn as arrogant Goldman-Sachs investment banker Vince is a poignant touch and Michael takes great pride in calling him a f****** c*** and sticking up his finger.
The action sequences are ace and extremely well done though occasionally Neeson’s ability to perform Bond-like stunts with ease (remember, his character Michael worked as an insurance salesman for the past ten years, not a fitness instructor!) aren’t always overtly realistic and believable. Still, THE COMMUTER is great entertainment and you’d be a fool to miss this ride.