VOD film review: The Commuter
Liam Neeson punching people8
Ivan Radford | On 27, May 2018Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill
Watch The Commuter online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Planes. Monorails. Taxis. Battleships. Horses. Virtually no mode of public transport exists on which Liam Neeson hasn’t punched someone. The Commuter is the latest to join the club, crossing trains off the list. He even punches people multiple times, for good measure. If that makes this B-movie thriller sound like a workmanlike piece of entertaining action cinema, you’d only be half right. Because director Jaume Collet-Serra, now on his fourth collaboration with the Run All Night, Unknown and Non-Stop star, never fails to be less than entertaining – and could never be described as workmanlike.
Over his relatively young career, the Catalan filmmaker has established himself as an understated master of the genre, managing to find quietly accomplished feats in the most familiar of action beats. He’s a director with a masterful understanding of how to use location to shape set pieces, just as he uses character to fuel them – and Liam Neeson has become the muse through which those talents have been focused.
Here, he plays yet another variation on Angry Liam, the violent old man with a penchant for taking drastic action to achieve a noble goal. In the case of The Commuter, he’s Michael MacCauley, a former police officer turned insurance salesman, a family man with a wife and son. One day, though, on his journey from Grand Central Terminal back to TarryTown, his routine is interrupted by Joanna (Vera Farmiga), a woman who has an unusual proposal: find someone named Prynne on the train and plant a tracker on them, and he gets $25,000 cash. It’s a tempting offer, arriving as it does mere hours after he’s fired by his insurance company – but he soon finds he doesn’t have a choice, as his family are placed in danger, unless he does what he’s asked.
There’s a certain economy of scale that keeps this silliness on rails, from the way the script swiftly establishes the regulars in each carriage – Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks is ideally cast as a convincingly world-weary passenger – to the rapid narrowing down of our potential suspects (mostly via punching). A quick drink with a former cop partner (Patrick Wilson) and an early cameo from Sam Neill as the department’s new police chief also make sure we know who to trust for reliable information.
Neeson, of course, is comfortably at home by now in these short-hand scenarios, able to bring a gruff sincerity to the part of an ageing family man, combining his physically intimidating frame with a gravelly, broken voice. Building on his now familiar action persona, we only need to see him on camera for a few minutes to be on his side. But those few minutes are where Collet-Serra already makes his presence behind the camera felt, as he crafts a beautiful opening montage that jump-cuts between mornings spanning a decade, each one giving us another hint of MacCauley’s emotional state and personal backstory. It’s visually impressive, emotionally effective and, most of all, highly efficient.
That technical precision is evident throughout, as Collet-Serra choreographs a different kind of fighting style for Neeson compared to their previous films and adapts his camera to match; where Non-Stop relied upon its lead’s proficiency with guns and a floating sense of zero gravity, The Commuter bases its skirmishes in unflashy fist fights from a man who isn’t in shape, and the camera pummels through walls and windows with a grounded, visceral wallop. Michael spends more time being beaten up than beating other people up, and Collet-Saura’s dynamic camera-work makes sure we feel each blow. He and his DoP even use a brand new lens technology, called Cinefade, that allows him to pull focus dramatically on Neeson’s face, the sudden shift from a deep to shallow field picking out the lines on our protagonist’s skin and tying us intimately to his worldview, as the rest of the screen blurs into the background.
It’s those small touches that elevate The Commuter above a generic run-of-the-mill thriller. Throw in a screenplay that celebrates the coming together of a diverse group of travellers – and the insulting dismissal of a wealthy stock broker – and you have an exciting outing that refuses to hit the brakes. The final act isn’t the most original destination, but it’s the journey that matters. And when Jaume Collet-Serra’s in the driving seat, and Liam Neeson is throwing punches, that’s a ride well worth taking.
The Commuter is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.