Liam Neeson revived his career about a decade ago as an older-than-usual action star with Taken. Since then, director Jaume Collet-Serra has helped to shephard along that career change, collaborating with him on several of his more recent action efforts. Their fourth and latest collaboration, The Commuter, is easily one of their best collaborations and feels like the kind of movie that simply doesn’t get made that often anymore. A fun, if imperfect, mid-budget action/thriller.
In The Commuter, Liam Neeson plays an insurance salesman named Michael, who has been working hard for the better part of a decade to provide for his family. This means, commuting on the train from the suburbs to the city every day. However, things take a turn for Michael one day and, on his final daily commute home, it quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger, Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on his train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding and is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy. With twists and turns along the way, Michael must try to save his life and the lives of the innocent passengers aboard the train.
One of the most common complaints among many in Hollywood these days is that mid-budget movies just don’t get made all that often anymore. It’s either very low-budget movies or massive tentpole blockbusters. There’s certainly some grey area, but that’s the lion’s share of what gets made these days. Somehow, Jaume Collet-Serra has made quite the career out of making these mid-budget popcorn movies and, quite frankly, he’s pretty good at it. The Commuter is another fine example of that.
To be clear, this isn’t some brilliant piece of auteur filmmaking. This movie is exactly what you think it’s going to be, and I mean that in the best way possible. The Commuter is a sometimes intelligent, sometimes dumb but always fun, if sometimes ridiculous whodunit with the occasional break for a pretty great action sequence. And one absolutely massive, totally, pardon the pun that I’m certain will be used far too many times, off-the-rails action sequence that is equal parts hilarious and thrilling. I’m not sure if that was the intention, but this movie doesn’t stop being entertaining and that’s pretty important when it comes to spending one’s time in a movie theater these days.
This is also quite the fine performance from Liam Neeson. In more than a few of his action movies over the course of the last decade, he hasn’t really had a chance to shine. The Grey is perhaps the best example of him actually getting to show off is Oscar-caliber acting skills in a fun and very effective adventure flick. Don’t get me wrong, there’s often a lot going on that wants to distract you from Neeson’s performance here, but he’s great and this movie works because he’s in it. He also has the benefit of some very fine actors in the ensemble, such as the criminally underutilized Sam Neill and an unintentional The Conjuring reunion, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga both on board the cast as well.
The Commuter is sort of like someone took a mystery in the vein of Murder on the Orient Express and gave it the spirit of a 90s action/thriller like The Fugitive and hammed it up just a bit. You get exactly the movie that’s advertised, which is a good, old fashioned fun time at the movies. Nothing more, nothing less. And considering the dumping ground that January typically is for studios, that makes new Lionsgate movie The Commuter a very safe bet, assuming you’re into that sort of thing. All I know is, I want to see Liam Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra keep this stuff up.