The Commuter Screen 12 articles

The Commuter


The Commuter Poster
  • The film is hobbled by sloppy camera work, ludicrous fight scenes, hairbreadth escapes, and altogether too many suspects.

  • Collet-Serra . . . has clearly absorbed Alfred Hitchcock thrillers where the action occurs on the boundary separating the real from the metaphorical or dreamlike. . . . The class-warfare, eat-the-rich messaging feels rather slapped-on, ultimately, and the movie never gets close to generating the political framework it would have needed to to be taken seriously as a parable of this or that, as opposed to yet another movie where Liam Neeson beats people up.

  • Characters have no identity except what’s constructed to fit the plot; situations offer no incidentals but merely exist to motivate the action; events occur not because they can (let alone might) but because they’re required to reach the chosen conclusion. When that conclusion arrives, it doesn’t even offer the analytical satisfaction of a chess game but the trickery of a game in which one player has changed the rules midway through.

  • Signs and billboards make ironic comments (“See something, say something,” “You could be home right now,” etc.) as gangway connections between cars flex and obscure lines-of-sight. Progressively, the commuter train starts to resemble a funhouse, distorting anxieties. . . . The Commuter’s script may not be an exercise in fool-proof logic (the actual plot makes almost no sense in retrospect), but its politics are consistent—a rare quality for a contemporary thriller.

  • From this lucid and politically sturdy foundation, Collet-Serra begins flexing his muscles as a storyteller and a stylist, dialing up the screenplay's Agatha Christie-esque sense of intrigue while experimenting with myriad point-of-view effects and thoroughly developing the atmosphere of his constrained location.

  • As it rattles on, the plot becomes more and more implausible—though again, believability isn’t what we’ve signed on for here. What we want is Liam Neeson looking pained as he grapples with a torturous moral decision; Liam Neeson cracking a baddie over the head with a busted guitar; Liam Neeson on a speeding train clinging for dear life to…well, to anything, as long as it’s moving fast. The Commuter is intriguing for some 80 percent of its duration and completely ridiculous for the last 20.

  • Collet-Serra's ‘bottle’ movies, where Neeson is trapped in a small location with an Agatha Christie conspiracy to ferret out, show off his formal capabilities and fixations, but not his strengths. . . . So it’s probably a head-banging conundrum for Collet-Serra agnostics why a handful of critics consider his work so irresistible and satisfying. They see the movies he appears to be making, instead of the bone dry parody set in a blue screen netherworld that he’s placed just below the surface.

  • Along with a quite moving faith in the commonweal and in the indomitability of the noble human spirit—a throughline in the cinema of Collet-Serra, who always puts his protagonists through the wringer—The Commuter is blessed with some of the deftest setpieces in recent pop cinema memory, including one brisk, brutal close-quarters dust-up that recalls Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin.

  • Collet-Serra is a master of invisible threats and his greatest trick here is to make the threat visible then invisible again. . . . Like Non-Stop, unknowable strangers become the victims of Liam Neeson's paranoia, this time a symbol of the eroding American middle-class and its associated economic and, more importantly, identity related anxiety.

  • As ever, the director’s stylistic obsessions (harried close-ups of cell-service signal bars) and thematic integrity (witness the overworked 9-to-5 crowd banding together in solidarity) elevate the cheap-paperback plot without tipping the movie over into pomposity. Indeed, Collet-Serra largely confines the emotional desperation that simmers throughout to the inventive and poignant opening-credits sequence, a series of jump cuts delineating the MacCauley family’s morning ritual.

  • The melancholy eloquence of the storytelling here is beyond what you’d expect from a movie being sold as the latest variation on “what if Liam Neeson, but punching things?” And yet it’s precisely because we’re so used to the actor’s axiomatic action-movie status that The Commuter’s overture works so well. . . . MacCauley’s solid, clock-punching reliability as his office’s most ethical operator mirrors the actor’s run as the weary face of unpretentious, mid-budget thrillers.

  • The film features one inspired set piece after another; Collet-Serra takes great pleasure in moviemaking, and his enjoyment is infectious. That the story is wildly implausible doesn’t detract from the immense satisfaction it has to offer. Rather, the narrative operates under a certain dream logic that’s wholly cinematic, and Collet-Serra delivers it with such emotional conviction that one gets absorbed regardless of the obvious plot holes.

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