Monday 10 September 2018

Movie Review: The Commuter (2018)

An action thriller, The Commuter offers an initially intriguing premise but quickly falls through the large gaps of an outlandish plot.

In New York, Michael MacCauley is a 60 year old insurance salesman and ex-cop, buckling under growing family financial pressures. He commutes daily on the train from his suburban home to downtown Manhattan. On the same day he is laid off, a shocked Michael meets his buddy Detective Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) for drinks, then on the train is approached by the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga).

She seems to know a lot about Michael and offers him a compelling hypothetical proposition: identify a person known only as Prynne from amongst all the passengers on the train in exchange for $100,000, of which the initial $25,000 is hidden in the train's washroom. Joanna quickly departs the train after hinting the offer is not hypothetical after all. Michael finds the $25,000, and also finds himself trapped: he has to identify Prynne, otherwise his family will be killed.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra and star Liam Neeson re-team and essentially remake 2014's Non-Stop, shifting the action from plane to train, along with borrowing some ideas from 2005's Red Eye. In The Commuter, the reassembly of the over-familiar components maintains only limited interest, and as usual in this particular sub-genre, as the plot reveals more of itself, logic and pragmatism are left further and further behind.

Collet-Serra deserves credit for knowing how to create energy and some tension in tight spaces, and The Commuter always looks slick. The cameras move with remarkable fluidity in, around and through the cramped multi-car train quarters, the setting just as important as the characters and events. Which is just as well, because the events immediately strain all credibility, and the characters, including MacCauley, are wafer thin.

Neeson can now knock off these roles in his sleep, and this is what he does, essentially sleepwalking through another damaged reluctant hero role. Joanna, the purported antagonist who sets the whole plot in motion, is for most of the film an intermittent voice over the phone.

Short bursts of action arrive at regular intervals, mostly in the form of sharp verbal sparring or physical tussles. Towards the end The Commuter turns into a clumsy sort-of hostage drama, the bad guys finding new ways to make their objective as hard as possible. This is a thriller where the evildoers have the remarkable capacity to do whatever they want, whenever they want, except when it matters most. In the process, the original would-be crime is overcomplicated purely for the sake of justifying a third-rate movie script.

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