The Commuter is brought to you by the same team that collaborated together to create Non-Stop, and while I enjoyed that film far more than is probably necessary, I must admit that when I heard that this movie had a similar premise, I was inherently curious, more than afraid. My reason being: when a plane is in the air, you can’t easily get off; when a train leaves a station, it’s more than likely going to stop at the next station. In fact if it’s an emergency it can stop on the tracks. That automatically created a problem in relation to tension, but screenwriters Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle managed to come up with a good enough plot that was able to circumvent this obvious conundrum. I don’t want to go into too much detail so as to avoid spoilers, but it involves a particular station, which not only gives Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) time to try and uncover the mystery that is afoot – and one which he has ultimately been blackmailed into by a stranger known only as Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who shows up sat opposite him, and strikes up a conversation. Michael has been taking the same train and the same route to the same job for ten years; he knows every face, all the regulars, and so is the perfect man for the job.
The job in question? He is presented with a hypothetical situation where he has to find an unknown passenger and place a GPS tracker on them. Yet after searching a bathroom and finding $25,000 in a bag in one of the train’s toilets, he realises that this scenario that he has been presented with isn’t hypothetical in the slightest, there are real-life stakes, and lives are on the line. Literally. Michael soon becomes embroiled in a conspiracy by a company who seems omniscient: it doesn’t matter what he does or who he tries to get to help him out, they know, and they will act without hesitation, remorse, or compromise, meaning that Michael has no choice but to comply and to see the day through if he wants to stand a chance of getting out of the situation alive. But he is against the clock, and he will soon run out of tracks as well as time. This clichéd device that is often used to ramp up the action can be forgiven here, because you’re invested in the story and want Michael to succeed. But just as was the case in Non-Stop, he is seemingly prevented from doing so at practically every opportunity. Naturally this just increases the tension, so I can’t complain too much, as once it starts rolling, it doesn’t stop, and the shocks are fast, surprising and unrelenting.
The Commuter is unapologetically an action B-movie; it tries to be nothing more, and nothing less than that which it is selling, meaning that it can instead focus on the story that it is telling, rather than trying to hide behind a façade and pretend to be something that it is not. Furthermore, this means that all of the twists and turns and little pieces of foreshadowing that are peppered throughout before the final showdown are all the more wonderful and wonderfully crafted and artistically realised because of that fact. This film doesn’t try to ram in much fanfare, instead allowing the shocks within the story to deliver on their own merit, and again the movie is elevated because of that (I think there was one guy behind me in the cinema who jumped so wildly at one point that he violently and accidentally kicked the back of my seat; not that I minded, as I found it bemusing, and it’s always good when there’s an indicator that other audience members are enjoying a film and not just there because they felt they had nothing better to do with their time). You are forced on to the edge of your seat, wondering how Michael is going to become the hero of the day, instead of the potential martyr that he is being made into. Sure, it has similar traits to Non-Stop, but when it’s created by the same team, you’re not going to complain too much.
Because The Commuter is a B-movie by default, that also makes Neeson (again, by default), this generation’s B-action movie actor. This is by no means a bad thing, as since his Taken days, Neeson has excelled in honing his craft as an action-centric actor. He is by no means on the same level as Bruce Willis or Jason Statham, for example, but he has cut a niche for himself and proved that not only is he able to deliver on the goods, but due to this is able to make enjoyable action movies that focus on being action movies instead of striving to be something more and then becoming a creative catastrophe. You may think I’m waxing lyrical about this, but it’s only because I’m trying to say that this is a positive thing, and The Commuter is so much fun with so much action that you become fully immersed in the story. That, for me, is great cinema, even if the content isn’t going to break any box office records. Not all films have to. Some are just there to entertain. And due to the nature of the movie’s setting, it means that The Commuter is rather claustrophobic in its cinematography, but this is again to the film’s credit. The Commuter is an action B-movie that puts story and character at the fore, and allows the action to lead the way so that you’re fully immersed. But be careful; you don’t want to miss your stop.