Welcome to Moral Dilemma Awareness Month with your host, Liam Neeson. It’s the start of a new year, which means Mr. Neeson once again presents his latest seminar about an upright businessman with a shady past and/or a twisted present who is put in an untenable position — will he kill/save the wolf/daughter/terrorist and uncover his enemy/identity.
Let’s be frank: Neeson does this genre — which, I think, we could legitimately call the Old Man As Badass Genre — better than anyone… and by that, he does it well. He luxuriates in that Irish-whiskey-cascading-over-pebbles voice, a gravelly low timbre that seems designed for whispered threats. Not all of the movies he makes with this skill are all that great — I grew tired of Taken after the first one and didn’t care for The Grey, but Unknown and Non-Stop were entertaining hoots. Those last two were directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who reunites (happily) with Neeson for The Commuter. The premise is typical of the formula. Neeson plays an ex cop in financial trouble who is given a proposal: Find the person on the evening subway train who doesn’t belong, identify him (or her), and get $100K in return for simple finger pointing. Well, not so simple. Neeson wants to know why, what will happen to them. But of course he can’t say no — his family might be killed. And everyone on board the train is a suspect.
The Commuter is not a mystery per se, insofar as you can pretty much predict how it will end and even who will be pulling the strings, but who cares? It’s about style and thrills more than surprises, and it’s actually well-plotted with a double (or even triple) ending. Collet-Serra mines vigorously from Strangers on a Train, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Passenger 57, his own Non-Stop and even, believe it or not, Spartacus. That’s ballsy, but not as ballsy as having the 65-year-old Neeson throw and take more punches than a welterweight sparring partner and convince you he can handle it. The Commuter make not reinvent the genre, but it delivers you on time to your destination.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Opens in wide release Friday.