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Review: The Commuter – “High-speed action”

You only need to take a quick look at the publicity images for The Commuter to understand the sort of journey you are in for. The image of Liam Neeson clutching a mobile phone in one hand and gun in the other is now synonymous with high-speed action, but while this latest collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) begins with an intriguing concept, it quickly derails into fist-fight silliness. Still, if you are willing to forget logic for the next hour and 45 then jump aboard the Neeson express, stopping at Taken, Speed and Spartacus!

Neeson takes up the role of insurance salesman and ex-cop (no surprises there), Michael MacCauley. He’s the typical everyman, doing the habitual commute for the last ten years when out of the blue he finds himself unemployed. Getting over the news on train home he finds himself propositioned by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) to identify a passenger on the train who doesn’t belong and place a tracking device on them for $100,000.

While no one can blame him for taking up the offer, it soon becomes apparent that secretive forces are pulling the strings and as the stakes get higher, Michael soon finds his own family’s life may be at risk.

The plot might seem like something out of a Hitchcock movie, identifying a person on a train with consequences unknown, but any flirtations with moral issues are quickly gunned down. It doesn’t take long to realise that the tapestry of passengers also aboard, are mostly unimportant stereotypes. It’s a real shame because The Commuter boasts some really good acting and a high calibre cast, including Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill, who provide great interpretations of who they play but are mostly handed roles as uninteresting side characters.

Let’s face it though, we all came here to see Liam Neeson kicking some ass, so what is the action like? Well, while plot details suffer it doesn’t take long to escalate into action territory. There is a reason that Liam Neeson is still starring in these types of films, frankly, he is a great actor. He can go from friendly questioning to full-blown fist fight and the film provides a few sequences with action that feels raw and energetic. Who wouldn’t enjoy Neeson beating a man with an electric guitar?

Director Jaume Collet-Serra is successful in bringing both a kinetic energy to the fight scenes and an intriguing exploration of the enclosed train carriages, making the audience feel the space. However, as the pace quickens, the track begins to buckle and things get head-scratchingly cheesy. One particular scene near the end is a Spartacus homage that had the audience I saw it with either laughing or tutting.

The commuter is fulfilling in many ways, it has a great cast, it has high-speed action and is fulfilling in the sense of fun you can have with it, or at it. However this is at the expense of any logic, its interesting premise is a sideshow to fast-paced headless action, which overall makes it a mixed bag of action fodder. If you are looking for one-watch easy action then this is the film for you, just don’t expect to think too much.

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