Review: 'The Commuter' offers action and mystery, but not quite enough of both

Marcus Goh
Contributor
PHOTO: STUDIOCANAL S.A.S

With a nondescript title and Liam Neeson as the star of the film, unspoken expectations have already been set up about “The Commuter”. As you may have guessed, the thriller is about an ex-cop who is forced to complete a seemingly impossible task on a public train by a mysterious stranger. However, there’s far more to this task than meets the eye, and it will take all of his wits and skill to unravel a deadly conspiracy.

“The Commuter” takes quite a while to get to its premise, i.e., showing Michael (Liam Neeson) actually commuting and getting into the thick of things. But even when the story starts in earnest, there’s more mystery than action. The film’s plot is somewhat like a whodunnit, with one major problem.

You don’t really know enough of the suspects to make an informed guess.

For a whodunnit to be executed well, the film has to first establish all the possible suspects so that you have a fair chance of “solving” the mystery along with the protagonist. However, the introductions are done so briefly and inconsequentially that audiences don’t actually know how to solve the mystery. When the big reveal arrives, it’s a letdown because you could have not have feasibly guessed it for yourself.

PHOTO: STUDIOCANAL S.A.S

The mystery element wouldn’t be such an issue if there were more action, but the brawling only comes in the final act, when the film takes a leap from plodding thriller to wham-bam action film. Liam Neeson’s fights are gritty and impressively done, with well-choreographed fight scenes shot in a single take. But they all start coming in rapid succession a little too late in the film, when you may have lost interest in what’s happening.

The friendship between ex-cop Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) and Michael is one of the stronger relationships in the movie, and their dialogue and rapport is solid and believable. Yet when it comes to the other characters, the dialogue is reduced to quips and snarky comments, which seem more like they were written for a movie trailer than a full theatrical presentation. The script seems a little disjointed from this perspective.

PHOTO: STUDIOCANAL S.A.S

The oddest aspect of the film has to be the omnipresent, omniscient antagonists — who, logically speaking, should have no trouble accomplishing the task that Michael is supposed to perform. This makes the plot seem incredibly contrived, requiring so much exposition that the film would have been better off not explaining it. You’ll find yourself frequently wondering why the bad guys don’t just do it themselves, if they’re so all-knowing.

If you’re watching the film for Liam Neeson, you won’t be disappointed. He delivers on both the intensity of his performance and the quality of the action, despite his age. It’s not as action-packed as “Taken”, but this seems like an intentional decision by the filmmakers. He says a variant of his famous catchphrase from “Taken”, although it remains to be seen if this will be a line that sticks in the public consciousness.

“The Commuter” is not as boring as it sounds, but it’s not as interesting as you’d expect either. There is some potential for it to be a series though, given how certain plot lines are unresolved. The question you have to ask yourself is: Would you watch it just for Liam Neeson?

PHOTO: STUDIOCANAL S.A.S

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? If you like Liam Neeson.

Should you watch this if it’s free? Yes.

Score: 2.5/5

Running time: 105 minutes (1.75 hours)

Secret ending? No.

“The Commuter” is a thriller with some action elements at the end.

It is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasio, with additional screenplay credits for Ryan Engle. It stars Liam Neeson (Michael McCauley), Vera Farmiga (Joanna), Patrick Wilson (Alex Murphy), Jonathan Banks (Walt), Elizabeth McGovern (Karen McCauley), and Dean-Charles Chapman (Danny McCauley). It is rated PG13.

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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