Mass transport is a brilliant plot device for movies. You can assemble an eclectic bunch of people with vastly different backgrounds and put them into one claustrophobic setting with just the one similarity, they need to get to a place. Then you create a problem in said mode of transport, whether it be a bomb or a murderer, and the drama practically writes itself. So if you decide to make a movie that’s based on a plane or a bus or a bus, you would have to work very hard to make it bad. So can The Commuter ease into being brilliant then?
Michael (Liam Neeson, Kinsey) has found himself in a tough situation. With his bills getting higher, he finds himself getting made redundant so close to retirement that it will be near-impossible to get him a new well-paying job. However on the train home, a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air) offers him £100,000 to do a simple task, find a person on the train before they get off. However that task is a lot darker and more difficult than Michael could have ever imagined.
If you are a keen fan of thrillers, that conceit may seem quite familiar. This movie is basically the same as Non-Stop, a thriller where Liam Neeson has to find a killer on a plane or else someone is going to get murdered once an hour. Yes, that movie has the same director and same main star. Now I’ve seen a lot of movies which are copies of others, but very rarely have I seen a director rip themselves off quite so obviously. This is such a similar movie that you can’t help but think of Non-Stop and that wasn’t exactly the most memorable movie in the world. The only reason I remembered it was because of this film!
And when a movie is that similar to another, it invites comparisons. And this is an area where The Commuter falls short. Non-Stop‘s strengths came from a simple but brilliant premise. Essentially it was a race against the clock, Liam Neeson had to find the killer in a certain amount of time or else people were going to die. A quantifiable thing that needed doing in a quantifiable time. This movie is a bit more vague. There’s a lot of conspiracies which throw things into doubt and because the time limit is not as certain as it’s when a train reaches a destination rather than a definite time limit, you aren’t quite sure how much time he actually has. And because a train is far roomier and has bigger windows, it lacks the same sort of claustrophobic atmosphere that Non-Stop had.
But the movie does a few things right. It does have that intensity that a thriller needs. The pace is relentless, once the movie gets going it goes like, if you mind my pun, a runaway train. And it really does wrack up the tension at times.
And we have to talk about Liam Neeson for a bit because as usual, he is perfect for this role. Yes it’s a cliché for Neeson to be the big action star, even though that’s only come recently thanks to the success of Taken, but he always does it so well. He can go from being a friendly father who tries to help his son boost his grades to a grizzled ex-cop who has to save the lives of so many people on a train in a heartbeat and it is amazing to watch. Yes the movie doesn’t really give him anything original to have fun with, which is a shame, but every scene is made better because Neeson is in it. I fear what the quality of the movie would be like without him.
At best, The Commuter is a fairly bland thriller that will hold your attention if you’ve got nothing better to do with a night. At worst, it is a complete retread of Non-Stop which suggests that Jaume Collet-Serra is just repeating himself as he looks to make another hit movie. There’s some fun to be had with the intense atmosphere and the grizzled performance from Liam Neeson but when the movie reminds you of another film so much, and one that is definitely better, it’s hard for it to carve out it’s own identity. Let the plane take the strain rather than the train.
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
Scr: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern
Prd: Stuart M. Besser, Jaume Collet-Serra, Michael Dreyer, Ron Halpern, Alen Heineman, Didier Lupfer, Lacey Darlene Paulson, Andrew Rona, Juan Sola
DOP: Paul Cameron
Music: Roque Banos
Runtime: 105 minutes
The Commuter is available on Digital Download now and out on Blu-Ray and DVD from 21st May.