Liam Neeson is an insurance salesman who takes the Metro North rail line into New York City every day in The Commuter, an absurd new thriller that makes just enough sense to keep you watching, but not enough to become satisfying.
But on the same day Neeson’s Michael MacCauley loses his job, a woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him on the ride home and offers him a mysterious proposition: simply identify the one person who does not belong on the train, and walk away with $100,000.
MacCauley, who has not only taken the train every day for the last ten years but also happens to be an ex-cop, is in a unique position to complete the job.
It isn’t exactly the trolley problem, but it’s a nifty premise given the vagaries of the task and the ambiguity of the outcome. What would you do? I imagine the screenwriters (Byron Willinger & Philip de Blasi, making their debut) might have played a game like this on their ride home from work.
Of course, this is also a ridiculous Liam Neeson thriller from Jaume Collet-Serra, who has made a living directing ridiculous Liam Neeson thrillers (Non-Stop, Unknown, and Run All Night). Five minutes after the premise is established, the filmmakers inexplicably throw it away.
That’s because it almost immediately becomes apparent that the person MacCauley identifies will be murdered, and so of course he refuses the task at hand. So the bad guys kidnap his wife and son instead.
Now we’re in familiar Neeson thriller territory, as MacCauley not only has to save his family, but also protect an unknown target.
The Commuter has enough intrigue within the central concept – who is the mystery traveler, and why do the baddies want him dead – to keep you hooked, and doles out the revelations out slowly enough that the contrivances don’t have time to build up too high.
But by the end, that’s all we’re left with as the film fails to make sense out of all the odd character decisions and absurd developments. The Commuter derails thanks to all the ridiculous plot mechanics during its climax and resolution.
Still, it does provide some fun up till that point, and includes a showstopping minute-long fight scene filmed in one long, unbroken take courtesy of some creative CGI work.
Neeson maintains his unlikely action movie cred here, but an excellent supporting cast is wasted: along with Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, and Lady MacBeth’s Florence Pugh never get enough screen time to make something out of their fleeting characters.