Before it descends into laughable implausibility, The Commuter employs Liam Neeson and the island of Manhattan to establish a telling portrait of an over-the-hill straphanger facing the erosion of his self-esteem. Michael MacCauley (Neeson) suffers from the suburban angst typified by men facing retirements scheduled before they can outrun the financial obligations they’ve incured in support of their suburban lifestyles. When Michael is suddenly rendered redundant by the insurance brokerage firm that employs him, he boards his daily late afternoon train home and steps through a portal in the movie’s storyline as unexpected as it is improbable. He’s accosted by a smoothly imperious woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him a substantial sum of money if he’ll locate a mysterious fellow traveler somewhere also on the train and relieve them of an unspecified object that doesn’t belong to them.
What begins as homage to John Cheever’s depiction of east coast, middle class desperation suddenly jack-knife’s into a
befuddling thriller with more questions than answers, capped by a train wreck that serves as the perfect one word description of the plot.
Neeson’s career has been punctuated of late by action films few actors of his generation (he’d now 65) are physically capable of playing. A decade ago, Neeson starred in Taken, a briskly-paced blood fest that spawned two sequels and led to his performances in such lookalikes as Non-Stop and Run All Night, formulaic pulp far removed from the likes of Neeson’s earlier crop of memorable performances in films such as Kinsey, Michael Collins & Schlindler’s List. Before he morphed into a late-blooming macho action hero, Neeson’s on screen demeanor hinted at sympathetic if unrecognizable depths to his talent. Let’s hope this effort does more for his pocketbook than it does for his artistic resume.
The Verdict? Shopworn action movie, memorable only for its early scenes of the protagonist’s career crisis.
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