'The Commuter' Review: Liam Neeson Gets Taken For A Ride

'The Commuter' Review: Liam Neeson Gets Taken For A Ride

Liam Neeson fans can look forward to another top-notch thriller filled with high-stakes action, mystery, suspense and drama.

The plain truth is that The Commuter kicks all kinds of ass. Collet-Serra's genre mechanics, stylized and sober, are efficient. Nothing lets the air out of a crowded theater like a self-serious potboiler, much less a self-serious potboiler needlessly wound into knots.

Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a family man who has taken the same train to work everyday for the past 10 years. She presents him with a proposition: identify a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop, and she'll give him $100,000. One fight scene in particular is framed as a single continuous shot a la Atomic Blonde, and while not as impressive it certainly delivers one of the most memorable weapons that Neeson has ever wielded in a film. His reward: a hundred grand to ease the sting of his firing.

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Liam Neeson stars in a "Non-Stop spiritual sequel" that doesn't exactly hit the marks. "We started it, so we have to be part of the solution", Neeson said. The Commuter knows how to take advantage of its setting and distinguish itself from its predecessors in the process. His trains run on time, even if - especially in "The Commuter" - a rush-hour's worth of implausibility eventually wrecks the thrill. The McCauleys lost their savings in that cluster. He needs the money. It's also pretty obvious who the mystery person ends up being if you've ever seen one of these red herring capers before, but at the very least the cast of oddball suspects is entertaining enough in their own right to carry the movie through the necessary steps.

Collet-Serra isn't pompous enough to package The Commuter as stirring commentary on that global meltdown. "If I identify him, someone on this train is gonna kill him". AKA, no one's expecting this to be a masterpiece, and it's not. But when he gets second thoughts - the more he learns, the more he realizes the "thief" is more of an innocent victim - Joanna informs Michael that his family will pay a nasty penalty if he doesn't cooperate. (It's worth noting that the film is a love letter to that director's work through and through, from Rear Window to North by Northwest.) Turns out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has Joanna on their radar, that other passengers might be playing her game, too, and that she might have cops in her pocket. It's probably asking a bit too much for an action movie like this. Even when Neeson isn't darting urgently from carriage to carriage, cinematographer Paul Cameron (working in shades of five o'clock tan that match the muddiness of the puzzle) makes the talkiest scenes antsy with handheld camerawork; the fevered, no-time-to-think atmosphere is maintained by editor Nicholas De Toth.

My advice for anybody planning to travel on mass transit - if you see Liam Neeson, change your travel plans. Too bad, but then again, there are only so many times bad guys can put common man Neeson's family in harm's way before the mileage runs out on the setup.

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