The Commuter could easily be joked away as TAKEN 22, the latest Liam Neeson action hero film to kick off the new year. But that’s not the case, not exactly. Genre director Jaume Collet-Serra puts together a film that could stand toe-to-toe with those great action films of the 90s.
The plot is simple; good guy, bad guy, and a train. That’s all you need to know; the characters and the tone are what stand out here.
In the first five minutes, Collet-Serra builds Neeson’s character, Michael MacCauley, in a few unique ways. The family is not perfect, there are ups and downs; Collet-Serra directs Neeson into a blue-collar corner, and he nails the aesthetic. MacCauley is just a hardworking guy trying to pay for his kid’s college.
The mystery on this train is more compelling than last fall’s big-budget adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The Commuter echoes the plot devices of the better Die Hard movies; as matter of fact, all the writers of the film had to do was switch out Michael MacCauley for John McClane and this could be that notorious sixth Die Hard film. In a world of superheroes and world building franchises, it was refreshing to get back to action basics (Side note: Bruce Willis is 63, Neeson is 66. Hollywood desperately needs to find younger action heroes).
Action films from the 90s are great fun despite their obvious flaws, and the same goes for The Commuter. Less would have been more when it comes to the CGI exteriors and climax which seems to exist solely on a computer screen; but when you have a team of super nerds at a computer, NO ONE WANTS TO MAKE A REALISTIC TRAIN WRECK! But the extravagance of the climax invokes a little too much Broken Arrow, and should have stuck with its Strangers on a Train inspired suspense. Or, if we’re talking 90s nostalgia, perhaps the Gene Hackman/Anne Archer remake of Narrow Margin would be a more apt comparison.