Movie review: Liam Neeson's 'The Commuter' fast, far-fetched, frantic

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 12 2018 11:15 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2018 11:33 AM

Ever since the runaway box office success of the film "Taken" in 2008, Liam Neeson experienced a second wind in his career as an action star. 

"Taken" was followed by two sequels. He also had other hard-hitting films like "Non-Stop" and "A Walk Among the Tombstones," both released in 2014. And just when there was some talk a while back that he was going to retire from making action films given his age of 65, he is back again with a new one.

Michael McCauley is a 60-year old insurance salesman who was just laid off from his job. On his way home on the train (the same train he had been taking every day going to work for the past ten years), a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offered him $100,000. His mission was to use his skills as an ex-NYPD cop to seek out a specific passenger with a bag and put a GPS device on that person before he or she got off at the Cold Spring station. If McCauley failed at this task, his family will be killed. 

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With a synopsis like that, you can already imagine how tense and claustrophobic this action-thriller was going to be. The travel time from Grand Central Station in the heart of NYC to Cold Spring station (a distance of 85 km) on the Metro North Railroad via the Hudson line is about an hour and 20 minutes only in real life. 

I liked the opening montage showing the day-to-day domestic life of McCauley, his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern), and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman), and his daily train ride into the city. I thought this sequence so eloquently conveyed their routine with the passage of time and seasons. I liked that McCauley read the classic books Danny needed to read for school -- something I also do with my kids. Oftentimes, we pay no mind to the scenes with the opening credits, but this one certainly grabbed my attention from the start.

Despite the sheer impossibility of what was being asked of him, you know that Neeson will do whatever it takes to save his family. Of course, his trademark invincibility and other super-human abilities will come in pretty handy, like they conveniently did in his previous action flicks. Honestly, he had to look for a needle in a veritable haystack in this one. No one can do that crazy task given the nebulous clues, extreme time limits, and the hundreds of people on that train. 

But hey, he's Liam Neeson.

We suspend our disbelief as we go with the quick pacing of the action. No matter how contrived or corny the situations may be, we are sucked into the flow of the story, all the way to its slam-bang super-explosive climax. Tightly shot, bone-crunching fight scenes between McCauley and various suspects escalate the excitement along the way. 

Astute viewers may be able to guess how things are going to wind up at the end, but director Jaume Collet-Serra (who had directed Neeson twice before) knew exactly how to keep us hooked. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."