Of all of the trends to come out of action cinema in the last decade, Liam Neeson films are still the strangest by far. The Irish thespian actor, turned geriaction star has been kicking ass and taking names, with his special set of skills, for as long as Robert Downey Jr has been Iron Man. Think about that: Liam Nesson has been an action star for as long as the MCU has been in existence, can anyone even remember the guy from Schindler’s List at this point? It’s a testament to Neeson’s versatility as a performer that we didn’t laugh him out of multiplexes a decade ago, as he’s managed the kind of late-career popularity without having to settle for a supporting role as someone’s dad.
By and large his movies have been successful, he turned Taken into a franchise after all, but apart from some dalliances with more dramatic roles (Silence, A Walk Among the Tombstones) Neeson has spent the last few years as a violent old muse for director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows). The Commuter, the duos fourth film after Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night, is another delightfully mad B-movie homage to Alfred Hitchcock by way of Death Wish. Jaume Collet-Serra clearly loves putting Neeson through hell in confined means of transport as The Commuter plays as an appropriate companion piece to the Neeson on a plane flick that was Non-Stop. To be honest, The Commuter may be their maddest collaboration yet.
Neeson plays former cop (of course) Michael McCauley, who after being fired from his insurance job meets a mysterious woman on his usual train home. This woman, who goes by the name Joanna and is played by Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring), gives old Liam a choice: find the one passenger on the train that doesn’t belong there. To sweeten the deal, Joanna offers our hero $100,000 in the bargain, which could come in handy to pay for his son’s college education, and help with some of those pesky mortgages. Obviously, it’s not that simple, with deadly consequences pretty much a given.
The Commuter is ridiculous, and it’s brilliantly aware of it. The ticking clock of a plot is lean and full of mystery until it predictably goes off the rails, but you’ll be having too much fun to care. Neeson is a hoot as his character searches through the train, and even ends up under it at one point. The movie also easily reminds us why this unlikely action hero’s is still such a major draw. At 65 years of age, Liam Neeson is no spring chicken and its easy to wince at the thought of his frail body going through the ringer. Unlike legendary action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone: who looked like warrior gods regardless of age, it’s Neeson’s lack of real physicality that help raise the stakes.
He’s not alone though, as The Commuter boasts a cast that would be the envy of any serious indie director. Vera Farmiga’s Conjuring co-star Patrick Wilson makes an appearance as McCauley’s former partner, along with Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Banks, and even Sam Neil. C’mon, what’s big Sam doing in this? Jaume Collet-Serra is on fine form once again as he has clearly taken notes on how over-edited the Taken action scenes were. Instead we are treated to a showpiece single take action scene involving a gun, an axe, and an electric guitar that is guaranteed to have you laughing your head off.
With the beginning of the year filled with worthy Oscar bait, The Commuter is a fun distraction from whoever’s trying to get best actor by playing an historical figure.