The Commuter: A tepid end portion puts paid to a fairly intriguing thriller

You think Liam Neeson, you think Taken. Well, at least I do. The Commuter is what you would get if for some strange reason, you brought together Taken’s protagonist into a world — a train, in this case — rather reminiscent of Murder on the Orient Express. Michael Maccauley (Liam Neeson) is an ex-cop — no surprises there — amd he has a set of very specific skills again, but this time, they are more people-oriented. His family is very much in danger again (you don’t want to be his family in his films), but this time, the difference is, he has to think his way into saving his family. There’s no punching enemies here. The fascinating aspect of The Commuter, in fact, is how for the longest time, he has no idea who his actual enemies are, or if they are even his enemies.

Michael gets chosen for a mission because he’s an ex-cop in dire need of money, and more importantly, because he’s got an eye for people. “You’ve always been good at it,” says a friend at the beginning. Michael knows when someone’s approaching from behind him. He notices when a random guy on a train is playing with the lines of consent with his girlfriend. He’s not one to kill time in a train by peering out of the window. He finds it more engaging — and useful — to look at the all the variety of life on offer inside the train. And for the life-or-death mission he gets chosen for, it is this trait that comes in handy.

The Commuter
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

It’s a Liam Neeson film, and so there’s a fair bit of fighting too. But the best fighting in this film is when he’s up against his instinct to accept the job he gets from a stranger. One scene illustrates this conflict beautifully. Tempted, he walks into the restroom and opens a hidden package. Upon seeing the money, he lets out a smile of joy, but quickly, it turns to a frown, when he realises what he’s just done. There’s another variety of fighting too — where Michael takes on circumstances. One breathtaking sequence has him stuck under a train as it gets moving. He doesn’t just have to escape being crushed to death. He has to get out, and then get back into the train again. It’s the sort of thrilling action you remember these films for.

It’s not all serious; there’s a fair amount of humour on offer too, mostly of the dark variety. Michael, who’s just off a phone call that informs him of the gravity of the danger he’s in, peers out of the train to see a distant hoarding that reads, “You could be home right now.” It’s one of several attempts in the film to come up with unexpected humour. I also liked how the fringe characters leave their mark. The ruthless stockbroker, the quiet girlfriend, the muscular poker player… The casting of actors like Vera Farmiga, Jonathan Banks, and Sam Neill also turns out to be an effective smokescreeen.

The lengthy end portion, and how unconvincingly seriously The Commuter ends up taking itself stop it from being more than a popcorn flick. Details about some evil organisation, corrupt policemen, a murdered man… hardly stick. In fact, at one point, you wonder if it was a clever plan to choose Michael for this job. The Commuter isn’t the film you ask such questions of though. You are simply meant to observe, as Michael does for the vast majority of the film.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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