Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Florence Pugh, Shazad Latif, Letitia Wright, Killian Scott, Clara Lago, Ella-Rae Smith, Damson Idris, Andy Nyman, Colin McFarlane, Kingsley Ben-Adir
Written by: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language
Running Time: 104
Date: 01/12/2018

The Commuter (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Citizen Train

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The fourth pairing of director Jaume Collet-Serra and star Liam Neeson, this second-tier thriller is far from great, but their usual blend of non-stop action and silly suspense still works like crazy.

In The Commuter, Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson) has worked as an insurance salesman for ten years, riding the train in and out of New York each day, on both good days and bad. One day, he loses his job just as he needs to pay for his son's college tuition. On the train home, a strange woman (Vera Farmiga) asks him if, in exchange for $100,000, he would find a single passenger, one who doesn't belong, and plant a tracer on the passenger's bag.

He finds that the money is real, but he soon learns that his wife and son will be in danger if he doesn't follow the rules. So he goes about trying to find the unknown passenger, though each time he comes close, the game takes a new turn. He realizes just how high the stakes really are, how much power the forces of evil have, when the train itself begins to hurtle out of control, headed for derailment. Can McCauley solve the puzzle before it's too late?

Though the plot of The Commuter doesn't really hold water, the movie moves fast enough, and doles out information so cleverly and sporadically, that it's possible to simply turn one's brain off and go along for the speedy ride. It helps that Neeson is such a fascinating presence. Rather than a trained bodybuilder, he's a sixty-something everyman, a family man, but still strong and charismatic while striving to do the right thing.

Virtually every shot of The Commuter is on him, though Collet-Serra (also of Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night) also provides plenty of razzle-dazzle, including the wonderful opening montage of all the mornings of a lifetime, waking up to the alarm, drinking coffee, leaving the house, possibly arguing, and possibly kissing.

On the train, the camera roams up and down the aisles smoothly, passing through one empty car whose air-conditioning is broken, and fluidly twisting and turning to capture the faces of all the suspects. Fight scenes and action scenes may not be masterful, but they are at least clear and potent and exciting. Indeed, The Commuter is close in spirit to what used to be called "B"-movies, and it's a solid entertainment.

Lionsgate's home video release includes a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a digital copy. It includes two featurettes, one about 10 minutes and another about 4 minutes, which contain some behind-the-scenes footage but are mostly studio-produced EPKs. Visual transfer is excellent, and sound is appropriately explosive. It also includes several trailers for other Lionsgate features.

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