The Commuter

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring

Liam Neeson Patrick Wilson Vera Farmiga

Anticipation.

Jaume Collet-Serra has delivered quite a few joyous action films already.

Enjoyment.

From the incredible Godardian opening sequence to the final cheesy resolution, this is a total delight.

In Retrospect.

That’s entertainment.

Liam Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra join forces once more for this fast-paced and furiously entertaining actioner.

Self-aware superhero blockbusters are all but dominating Hollywood action cinema. Meanwhile, mid-budget, cheesy and self-serious action films, of the variety which made the 1990s so much fun, have barely space to breathe. Success stories such as the John Wick films have hinted at a desire for old school, concept and character-driven action stories, but even those movies have been a little too knowing to truly recall the cream of that bygone era.

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra has made his name as a modest master of these boilerplate genre flicks, and in turn has come closest to reviving this dearly missed tradition. He made waves with the ludicrous and brilliant 2016 film The Shallows, in which Blake Lively goes head-to-head with a shark. He impresses again with his new one, The Commuter, the most fully realised and rewarding of his collaborations with star Liam Neeson (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night).

In this tight, fun and astonishingly choreographed new work, Collet-Serra once more demonstrates an intuitive understanding of his star’s image as a decent man who will always play by the rules – until someone else breaks them and attacks his family. He plays Michael Woolrich, a married man in his sixties who has worked, for most of his life, at an insurance company. On the cusp of sending his son to an expensive university, he is unexpectedly laid off. Seeing a star like Neeson troubled with such mundane problems is already thrilling in and of itself, but the story does not stop there.

Aboard the commuter train Woolrich has taken every day for the past 20 years, a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him and offers him a chance to make a lot of money in return for doing one simple task which would mean nothing to him, but a lot for somebody else. This straightforward metaphor for ruthless capitalism turns even more bizarre when our hero refuses to obey: the woman then holds his family hostage and threatens to kill everyone on the train if he doesn’t follow her orders. Caught up in a criminal conspiracy, he is forced to do what she asks: find the commuter she is looking for, and whack them.

Nodding to Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, the film follows Neeson as he trudges from carriage to carriage, investigating an eclectic ensemble of characters and pointing out the faces he does not recognise. The comparison becomes beautifully obvious when the driver is killed. As the train nears its destination, the stakes amp up, and the strange woman becomes more impatient. The film itself also becomes less and less realistic. In its most audacious and, eventually, explosive moments, the film directly references both Tony Scott’s wonderful Unstoppable and Jan de Bont’s classic adrenaline rush, Speed.

The Commuter would not be half as much fun if it explicitly pointed out those references or acknowledged its own ridiculousness, in the manner of other contemporary, self-aware Hollywood action movies. This surface seriousness, and a refusal to fall into postmodern line, make it a film that functions as a latter-day continuation of ’90s action movies, rather than an homage to them. It is never afraid of being fun.

Published 17 Jan 2018

Tags: Jaume Collet-Serra Liam Neeson

Anticipation.

Jaume Collet-Serra has delivered quite a few joyous action films already.

Enjoyment.

From the incredible Godardian opening sequence to the final cheesy resolution, this is a total delight.

In Retrospect.

That’s entertainment.

Read More

Run All Night

By David Jenkins

Another week, another snarling slab of Neesonalia. This one is a superior sample.

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Jaume Collet-Serra: ‘If I was in that situation, I would die in two seconds’

By Adam Nayman

The Spanish genre master on directing The Shallows, working with SFX and why Orphan is so funny.

Non-Stop

By Adam Woodward

More mile-high misadventures as Liam Neeson rolls out his machismo B-movie thing on a packed passenger jet.

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