The Commuter is the movie I hope and pray for when I commit 90 minutes to watching something I know for a fact isn’t going to be “good.” Last week I reviewed Proud Mary and spent a lot of time talking about how frustratingly dull it’s aesthetics were. To me, judging these films based on the depth of the narrative feels like a waste of time. The word “substance” is often synonymous with themes, character, and story. But that’s not what films like Proud Mary and The Commuter are setting out to do. In the case of these movies style is the substance. The Commuter maximizes what a film can do when relying on aesthetics alone. It’s preposterous plot might not piece together perfectly, or at all, but this is a thoroughly entertaining, beautifully crafted action movie.
Liam Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a 60 year old insurance salesman. He’s a real normie. He loves his wife and his son, who is preparing to go to college. He has a wonderful life, until he’s laid off from his job. On his train home, a mysterious woman approaches him and offers a whole lot of money to find someone on the train. He has to find a person with a bag, with “something” in it, and tag them with a GPS so the villain can kill them. Michael basically needs to solve a high-stakes puzzle, while trying to avoid getting himself or anyone else killed.
The film opens with a montage of Michael waking up and starting his day. It’s a scene I’ve seen a million times, but this is one of the better versions that exist. Not unlike the opening of Pixar’s Up, it condenses a lot of time into a short segment, really effectively. Most action movies are shot and edited like dramas, until an action scene happens. The Commuter is an action movie that never stops being an action movie. A scene of Liam Neeson walking onto a train and finding his seat unfolds like a major cinematic set piece. It’s masterfully staged and shot, and as tightly choreographed as a musical number. When Michael’s boss sits him down and fires him it’s equally as compelling as the later scene when Michael uses a guitar to fight a man with an axe. (The firing scene is also the first in a feature film to employ “cinefade.” Very nice!)
The plot is ridiculous, sometimes reaching heights that near self-parody. It’s driven by an elaborate conspiracy. This is like a Truman Show, The Village, Eagle Eye level conspiracy. The villains phone in instructions and threats to Liam Neeson on his train, and they have a Godlike level of knowledge and control over his surroundings. And we never get the details of what they want and why. The film, wisely I think, keeps the conspiracy vague. It’s the broad strokes of a conspiracy, it’s almost archetypical. It doesn’t concern the audience with what the villains were specifically after. It doesn’t matter and nobody cares about that.
The Commuter is clever, it’s fun, it’s economical with its exposition. It’s a B-movie in the truest sense, and in the best way. It’s so bad it’s good and so good it’s good all at the same time. It’s legitimately a ton of fun, and I highly recommend it.
I give The Commuter 8 weaponized guitars out of 10 salt of the earth commuters.