Despite Liam Neeson’s threats to retire from being everyone’s favourite superannuated action man, The Commuter proves there’s ludicrous life in the old brawler yet, reuniting Neeson with his Unknown and Non-Stop director Jaume Collet-Saura in yet another tale of an ordinary man caught up in a deadly conspiracy. 

 Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is not having a very good day. A former cop turned insurance salesman, he’s pushing 60, has two mortgages on his house, a son about to go to college and the family’s savings were wiped out by the Great Recession. The MacCauleys are living hand-to-mouth, barely making ends meet. Suddenly made redundant (his severance package, ironically, consists only of health insurance), MacCauley stops off for a drink with an old cop buddy (Patrick Wilson) before catching the train home to break the bad news to his wife. 

That’s when the beautiful and mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) sits across from him, engages him in conversation and offers him a once-in-a-lifetime deal; $100,000 in untraceable bills, tax-free! All he has to do to earn the money is find someone for her, someone on the train. Someone who doesn’t belong. Someone who’s getting off in a couple of stops. Someone with some very valuable information.  

Realising he’s being set up as an accomplice in the assassination of a government witness, MacCauley’s attempt to back out of the deal and alert the police results in murder and blackmail. With his family under threat and a hit man stalking the train, MacCauley must find a way to save the witness, clear his name and turn the table on the killers before the train reaches the end of the line… 

Opening with a genuinely wonderful montage of ten years of modern commutes that introduces Neeson and his family, their ups and downs, the minutiae of their lives, through their morning routine, Neeson nodding to the same weary faces every day as he catches the train and the seasons wax and wane around him, cutting a defeated figure of everyday heroism as he shambles through Grand Central Station on his way to his thankless, wage-slave job. A job which ten minutes in has already betrayed him when his impossibly young boss unceremoniously makes him redundant, describing him as “a good soldier” before crassly adding that sometimes good soldiers are casualties. 

But this is LIAM NEESON you think! You can’t just fire Liam Neeson! Not and expect to get away with it! You wait for Neeson to deploy his particular set of skills, for one of Collet-Serra’s trademark claustrophobic brawls to erupt (Remember the fight in the aeroplane toilet in Non-Stop? Or the fight in the train station toilet in Run All Night? Actually, what is up with Collet-Serra and toilets? Did something bad happen Jaume? You can tell us…) or at least punch his smug, supercilious Gen-X boss in the throat. But this isn’t that Neeson. Not yet anyway. Instead, Neeson pleads for his job, saying: “I’m 60 years of age!” His pleas however fall on deaf ears, he’s out on the pavement. For what place is there for a 60-year-old man with debts in today’s recession-gripped world?

And there lies the beauty of Neeson and Collet-Serra’s partnership: together they make ludicrously entertaining, thick-ear action thrillers about impotent, powerless everymen caught up in the gears of a conspiracy that’s out to crush them, to destroy them. We can sit back and relax, enjoy even, as humiliation is heaped on Neeson, on us. We can squirm as the trap closes around him, his eyes darting, desperate, paranoid, around the confines of the train carriage as he almost feels the noose tighten around his throat, as his name and reputation are tarnished, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, mocked even by the security posters on the train – If you see something, say something – hindered, rather than helped by the film’s symbols of authority, the suspicious train guards, the trigger-happy cops, the uncaring FBI agents.

We can enjoy all of those things because we KNOW Neeson will turn. At some point he’ll get off the back foot, he’ll turn the tables on the baddies, he’ll open up a can of close quarters kick-ass, for we demand satisfaction. Inventive ways will be found to have Neeson hang off and under the train, for we demand excitement. Neeson will make an impassioned, if not entirely coherent, speech in favour of brotherhood, common decency and doing the right thing to the ordinary working schmucks who ride the train with him, they will rally, they will stand together, we will stand together! And we will triumph! For that is the Tao of Neeson!

As tense, daft and entertaining as you expect it to be, as you want it to be, right up until it comes off the rails with it’s “I am Spartacus!” climax, The Commuter is ruthlessly efficient fun.

Movie Review: The Commuter
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