Ever since the box office and critical hit of Pierre Morel’s “Taken,” Liam Neeson has been on a consistent downward spiral with a barrage of shoot em up action thrillers. Nesson adds another one of these predictable convolutions to his resume with Jaume Collet-Serra’s “The Commuter.” Yet another thriller in which an average “Commuter,” who just happens to be an ex-cop, finds himself being persuaded by a tempting offer from an attractive woman who provides him with a hypothetical situation of finding a particular passenger and attaching a tracking device to their carry on. In exchange, he will receive $100,000, an offer that becomes very tempting after he is let go from his insurance firm for what seems to be a backlash of layoffs, but nothing is what it appears to be on this particular day as this hypothetical offer begins to become increasingly dangerous.
Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson must enjoy each other’s company in a meaningful manner, because this is yet another film that feels inexplicably unmemorable. “The Commuter” has nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it's not a film that is worth a theatrical viewing either, maybe not even a theatrical release. The narrative is where the flaws began, as the tropes and stereotypes of the action narrative are ingrained in every snippet of the screenplay. Not only do we have the familiar, ordinary man storyline that acts as the mundane introduction to our story, but we have a plot that attempts to tie in a hefty amount of conspiracy and unpredictability into its story that inevitably and ironically pushes the train off the tracks. “The Commuter” is a film that best serves those desiring a quick and seamless watch to kick off the new year, and there are some quality moments of filmmaking to be found within its one hundred and four-minute runtime.
The action itself is one of those fragments of quality to be found, as the fight scenes are consistently filmed with purpose and integrity of our protagonist. Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is sixty years old, he’s a retired cop, a recently fired life insurance agent, and there's no reason he should be beating the crap out of younger individuals. Jaume Collet-Serra realizes this and provides a dose of age to Neeson’s character in the action scenes by allowing him to take the punches and roll with them in a literal fashion. Neeson's receives a beat down in this film, and it helps with the believability of the action and a bit of the story as well.
The beatdowns are also a bit cathartic as well, but not because I have grown to dislike Neeson in any fashion. Instead, it's almost as if I’m hoping that at least a couple of those punches are knocking some sense into him. This is an actor that was apart of one of the greatest films ever made, a movie in which he found himself at the epicenter of in that of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.” Neeson is an actor with both raw talent and notability for the average moviegoer, but he’d rather choose to become part of a dying breed of action stars that place his abilities to good use. I respect and admire the man too much to continue to watch him go down this path of failure, but he’s earned the right I guess.
Liam Neeson is fine; nonetheless, his performance harkens back to “Taken” once again as he has continuously attempted to escape that memorable role, but he admittedly made that film far better than it would’ve been with anyone else in his shoes. He attempts to replicate that magic with “The Commuter,” and in a way, he achieves in doing so by making the movie far more watchable than it should’ve been, but he doesn't necessarily make the movie good. You can also find notable actors like that of Sam Neill, Vera Farmiga, and Patrick Wilson sprinkled throughout this convoluted narrative, all who seem to be there for more moments of audience recognition than anything else. It allows the audience to think “hey I know that guy, what movie is he from?” It acts as a distraction from the on-going convolution of a story that would be far more appreciated as direct to home viewing kind of film than a theatrical release.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s “The Commuter” is a film that is well deserving of its month of release. This is a January kind of film through and through. “The Commuter” will have its day in the sun with action enthusiasts, but in all reality, it's a film that gets a lot right until it begins to fall apart by adding too many ingredients to the recipe. The real takeaway to be found is not that action films seem to have forgotten how to make a simple kind of thriller, but more of the fact of how Liam Neeson has seemed to have forgotten how talented he is as an actor. As a fan of his work, I hope to see this become a call to action for a grizzled veteran who deserves one last ride. A parallel irony of his previous few films that will hopefully become a signal for him to recognize that his unique set of skills are not being put to a good enough use.