- Product Rating -

The Commuter

| January 21, 2018

Amongst the current-day auteurs—the Sofia Coppolas, the Nicolas Winding Refns, the Paul Thomas Andersons—lie an unsung auteur, and it happens to be Jaume Collet-Serra. Now let it be reiterated that auteurs need not be acclaimed, nor must they be great at what they do. But The Commuter fits in line with the director’s filmography up until this point, down to its protagonist, themes, lead actor, and like his lesser works, its dullness and forgettability. There’s something to be admired about popcorn movies that are so lacking in fiber that they painfully pass through your system, but the lack of nutrition does lead to malnutrition after a while. The Commuter is junk food, plain and simple, shifting Collet-Serra’s filmography from modestly auteurist to entirely autocannibalistic.

Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is a businessman whose everyday commute is as banal as you would expect prior to the inciting incident of an action movie, punctuated by seeing the same strangers every day in leu of having a solid relationship with his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman). One day after being laid off from his job, he spots an unknown woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) watching him on the train, who soon propositions him with the chance to track down a nonspecific passenger going by the name of Prynne, at which point he will earn $75,000. With her omnipresent phone calls directing him and his specific set of skills, the train version of Non-Stop ensues.

Non-Stop was a pleasant surprise, not overstaying its welcome while remaining aware enough of its simplicity. While that movie had some script issues that mainly concerned the third act, The Commuter amplifies those problems. Co-writer Ryan Engle co-wrote the aforementioned 2014 film as well as this one, this time along with first-timers Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, all of whom lay the clichés on thick and don’t know when to quit. Despite a 105-minute runtime, it’s something unexpectedly interminable, stretching out itself for most of its runtime and completely lacking intrigue for its last 25 minutes. The third act switches between being predictable and contrived while lacking high enough stakes, largely because of the vanilla characters populating the screen. The dialogue is workmanlike for almost the entire time, save for a few decent rapports between Neeson and peripheral characters and one zinger that’s actually guffaw-worthy.

Collet-Serra’s work here is as competent as it’s always been, littered with just enough flourishes to light up what’s otherwise unremarkable. The action scenes are discernible and competent, but the editing is questionable and at times causes whiplash, even in quieter moments. But at the end of the day, this really is another Neeson vehicle—this vehicle just happens to be a train. He does a decent job with what he’s given and supporting players such as Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Sam Neill bring more gravitas to the film, but let it be said that the latter is woefully underused. It’s really the absurdity of it all that laces The Commuter with the limited fun that it does supply, but it isn’t self-aware nor is it all that entertaining. In fact, this is a thriller that’s really a snooze-fest, and its attempts at liveliness by way of comic relief fall flat.

In a roundabout way, that kind of fits in line with Collet-Serra’s brand as a filmmaker. It’s another rainy day thriller that probably works best when not all attention is imparted upon it, and it’s more off-the-rails (pun intended) than a respectable diversion. It’s not something that thinks that it’s more than it is, but it also isn’t something that tries. If anything, it goes to the end of the line, comes to a standstill, and then blows up for what feels like half an hour straight.

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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