TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Commuter “2018”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action Thriller/ Stars: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Andy Nyman, Clara Lago, Roland Møller, Florence Pugh, Edward Bluemel, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ella-Rae Smith, Nila Aalia, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Colin McFarlane, Adam Nagaitis, John Alastair, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Damson Idris, Ben Caplan, Letitia Wright, Pat Kiernan/ Runtime: 105 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that ever since the long gone year 2008, aka when the first entry in the Taken franchise made its way to theaters, iconic actor Liam Neeson has made the choice to construct much of his recent cinematic resume, with a few exceptions like Silence from 2016 and The Lego Movie from 2014 among others, on being the kind of character that your father (or grandfather in some cases) wishes with all of his heart that he could be. That’s because darn near every single slice of cinema in Neeson’s action filmography has been one which deals with a patriarchal figure who has seen better days, but who also is in possession of a fairly potent skill set, finding himself being called into action by a set of circumstances to either keep his family or others safe from deadly peril in an attempt to show that, despite the years and the mileage, he most assuredly still has what it takes to kick some serious bad guy butt. Suffice it to say it’s an updating of the old save the princess narrative trope….if the trope was retooled to work for those people who want to see a father or grandfather figure NOT named Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford give a specific audience someone they can root for. Suffice it to say that it’s a role that Neeson has had no problems whatsoever with filling since it’s managed to fill his pockets quite nicely. It is with that in mind that we now come to the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2018’s The Commuter, and even though the narrative is fairly run of the mill and predictable in certain aspects, this is still a fairly fun and enjoyable action thriller outing. Indeed this is one slice of cinema where the intricacies of the narrative don’t have nearly as much significance as the still fairly engaging moments of both action and thrills to say nothing of fairly enjoyable (despite a lot of them being severely short changed in terms of screen time) cast that has been assembled to bring this slice of cinema vividly to life. That and I have to be absolutely honest with you dear reader: sometimes all you really need for a slice of cinema is for it to just entertain you pure and simple. No, The Commuter is most assuredly not Oscars material by any stretch of the imagination, but if you turn your brain off for a couple of hours and enjoy it on its own merits I promise you will find a fair bit to appreciate and enjoy here.

The plot is as follows: The Commuter opens its riveting yarn as we see that, in the aftermath of a decade-long career at an insurance company known as Union Capital Insurance, a devoted salesman and family man as well as former member of a teeny tiny little organization known as the NYPD by the name of Michael MacCauley is unexpectedly dismissed from his position. Suffice it to say that with both a pair of mortgages on his home as well as paying the tuition for where his son would like to go to school weighing pretty heavily on his plate, we see that our intrepid hero is seriously torn with anxiety on just how exactly he should pass this news to his family, but especially his loving wife Karen. Yet for as bad as his day has been up to this point, we see that things are about to take a turn for the mysterious and ominous. This is because on his everyday train commute back home, we see our hero is approached on board by an enigmatic woman who quickly introduces herself as Joanna and who fairly quickly presents Michael with a fairly riveting proposal. That being that she is prepared to pay him no less an amount than 100 grand if he is able to both find a passenger on board by the name of Prynne before the train reaches its final destination and proceed to insert a tracking device somewhere on the individual in question. A task that, by all intents and purposes, should prove to be relatively easy for our hero even if he’s not entirely at ease about the fact that he doesn’t know what will happen to the person he’s looking for once he gets off the train. Yet despite being fairly skeptical about just how legit this, for all intents and purposes, asinine request is, we soon see that it is not long before our hero is able to uncover just how perilously potent this assignment is following his acquiring of some of the money only to come face to face with the fact that there is some truly perilous fallout in place should he decide not to see the assignment through to the very end. Thus what started as a seemingly simplistic request has now transformed into a significantly more crooked conspiracy with our hero going up against the clock in his desperate search through the multitude of passengers aboard the train to find his target lest he wish to lose no more and no less than every single thing that he cares the most about in this world.

Now should you wish to locate just where in the world the fun factor is to be found in this slice of cinema, I think that will more or less depend on how much talent you dear reader possess in not only being gifted in looking past some fairly significant gaps in the narrative, but also in making the best of a narrative that is constructed on some quite obvious false suspects. Indeed this also includes the fact that whomever is threatening some serious bodily harm against both our main hero as well as his family is not ever given much in the way of identification save for the fact that they most likely identify themselves as “They” and all in capital letters to boot. Furthermore, I must confess that it also struck this reviewer as fairly peculiar for this menacing organization to be as overarching as they claim and at times show themselves to be and yet they still find themselves needing to enlist the wild card services of our main hero in order to aid them in their hunt for the enigmatic individual at the heart of this slice of cinema’s main puzzle. Along that same train of thought (pun intended), I guess I should also let you know at this time that you will most likely not have to scratch your head too much in trying to figure out this slice of cinema’s main puzzle. A fact that I can claim because honestly it will not be that hard, if you’re the kind of individual who has seen even a single one of these red herring a’plenty mystery-thrillers before, to figure out not only who the person that Neeson is supposed to be looking for turns out to be, but also the identities of a few other vital people at the heart of this slice of cinema as well. Thankfully even with that aspect in place, this slice of cinema does at least manage to give you, the viewer a wonderful group of quirky personalities to sort through and each one proves to be engaging enough in their own way in order to help carry this slice of cinema through all the various deductions and other detective work carried out by our main character.

However the times where this slice of cinema truly proves to be at its most vibrant are the moments where this film engages in action beats even if they every so often prove to be sadly stricken by some downright messy work from the editing department especially when it comes to following a few of the more engaging action beats, but overall the action beats in this slice of cinema are not only extremely well done, but also wonderfully creative as well. This includes one particular scene of combat that is set up to look like it was filmed in a single non-stop shot like something you would see in Atomic Blonde or in the John Wick franchise. Yet even though it is nowhere near as fantastic as the action beats found in those other two cinematic examples, this slice of cinema does have a fairly unique distinction to it in that this action beat does allow movie lovers to see one of the more….unique weapons that Neeson has utilized in one of his action films to date. Along with that, this slice of cinema also gives us the wonderful opportunity to see this in his 60s (!) talent not only jump between the cars on this train, but also survive all manner of riveting peril being hurled his way. Of course I can honestly say that I am not that surprised by how visceral and edge of your seat a lot of these moments are seeing as they are what I have come to expect from this slice of cinema’s helmer seeing as he did the same thing for Neeson in Run All Night from 2015, Non-Stop from 2014, and Unknown from 2011. Put another way dear reader: this slice of cinema’s narrative might be simplistic and predictable to a hilt, but by and large this is because the narrative is mostly meant to operate as a foundation on which to place some engaging action beats set on a speeding train so if you are the kind of person who likes that then congratulations you’ve most definitely come to the right film. If not however then I must ask: how exactly have you come so far in this review thinking this is still a film for you?

This brings us to this slice of cinema’s cast and honestly while this is a fairly talented group of performers, I do feel that there is one little problem. That would be that most of them are sadly not given nearly enough material to make their characters really fleshed out let alone memorable. This dilemma includes Vera Farmiga who makes for a riveting villainess despite being severely limited in screen time, Patrick Wilson who is good in his role as Neeson’s former partner on the force even if you might be able to guess where his arc is going, the always delightfully cranky Jonathan Banks in a role that feels more like an extended cameo, and Sam Neill who in his role as Neeson’s former police captain is sadly one-note in the worst way possible to name but a few examples. This of course then brings us to the main star of the film Liam Neeson and (surprise surprise) he once again gives us his all and makes his performance work about as well as the material will let him whilst also allowing him the chance to show off his set of skills during his prerequisite AARP-sponsored action hero moments. Suffice it to say then that whilst the cast in this has its share of issues, they still more or less make their performances work as well as they possibly can under the circumstances

All in all I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: the slice of cinema that is 2018’s The Commuter is not exactly a revolutionary film by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time, there aren’t that many Hollywood icons who really strive to make these kinds of films consistently anymore and when they do it’s either a direct to video or streaming release. However Neeson, for whatever reason, has the distinct gift for making sure these films get as big of an audience as possible and, no matter how absurd or ridiculous they get, still provides them with a touch of class and talent even in the face of making this kind of film its own distinct subgenre. Of course whenever Neeson teams up with his helmer on this one, the results are usually pretty enjoyable. Indeed Unknown from 2011 and Non-Stop from 2014 are fun slices of cinema that are terrific rainy day entertainment material and Run All Night was actually a lot better than even I thought it would be plus seeing Neeson go up against crime boss Ed Harris was quite the cinematic treat. Yet what this slice of cinema has in its corner is a willingness to, after a certain point, push the envelope and take the action as far as it possibly can whilst still remaining both silly and fun in equal measure. Sure this slice of cinema does have more than its fair share of flaws, but The Commuter is still praiseworthy because it manages to give its target audience exactly what it promised them that they were getting. Indeed at the end of the day, this slice of cinema is an A-Z and run of the mill mystery thriller that has no desire to win any awards or revolutionize its particular genre. It just wants to entertain you for a period of time and in that respect it succeeds admirably. Thus if you are looking for a cinematic meal that is more like a delicious peanut butter cupcake than a honey roasted turkey then climb aboard and give this slice of cinema a shot. I promise you could definitely do a whole lot worse. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Commuter “2018” a solid 3 out of 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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