A moral conundrum and the consequences choice are at the heart of The Commuter. This is the fourth collaboration between director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson (after Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night).
Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a 60-year-old middle manager at a faceless insurance company. Like so many hard-working family men, he’s at financial breaking point. His son is about to go to college and the family is living beyond its means. Then, one day, his situation suddenly gets so much worse – he goes to work and is fired without notice. That, however, is not the only thing about to spoil his evening.
On his rail commute, the passenger sitting opposite him is a stylish woman (Vera Farmiga). She introduces herself as Joanna. She puts an odd proposition to him: find a passenger on board the train who doesn’t belong, in return for a handsome reward. An easy deal, you might think; but not if you’re an ex-cop who has a strong moral compass. MacCauley eventually agrees to find the “suspect” among the sea of passengers. He plans on using his wit and skill to uncover their identity. Soon though, he comes to realise he’s at the centre of a deadly conspiracy that will end in murder.
This psychological thriller is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Newcomers Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi provide the script, though aided by Ryan Engle (Non-Stop).
An intriguing start gives way to the preposterous proposal that underpins the story arc. The movie then – more or less – self-destructs as it nears finality. Director Collet-Serra does what he can to ratchet up the tension in MacCauley’s needle-in-a-haystack search. But I have real problems with the way some of the characters were written (credibility was often lacking). And the complexity of the script made the film difficult to follow.
Neeson channels some of the kick-butt heroics from the Taken franchise as the hero refusing to succumb to blackmail. Farmiga (Up in the Air) has a small, but vital role as a femme fatale with an axe to grind. The rest, too, are but bit characters – not unlike those aboard the train in the recent Murder on the Orient Express.
As a bit of a Neeson fan, I couldn’t help walking away with a sense of disappointment. The best thing about The Commuter is the tight editing at the start to establish MacCauley’s routine and back story. I thought they showed some class and style that went begging for the rest of the picture.