The Commuter (2018)

  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Action | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson


A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.


  • It’s January at the movie theaters and you know what that means. It means that it’s Neeson time. Liam Neeson that is. He’s the 65-year-old badass. He’s the Buddha everyman. He’s the AARP butt-kicker. He’s well, the most reliable actor on the planet.

    Neeson is perfectly cast in The Commuter despite the negative review I’m about to give it. He’s an expert at playing the nice guy, retired cop whom the bad dudes choose to mess with. “Commuter” is also Liam’s umpteenth showcase pic and his fourth collaboration with Spanish helmer, Jaume Collet-Serra. Neeson is Collet-Serra’s unquieted muse and I liked their films Run All Night and Non-Stop. With The Commuter, they’ve unfortunately run into a misstep. This is an expendable redux that fumbles its way to a formidable “destination”.

    “Commuter”, which is distributed by the long running production company StudioCanal, is almost identical to Collet-Serra’s 2014 vehicle, Non-Stop (mentioned in the last paragraph). The only difference is that The Commuter takes place on a fast-moving train as opposed to the nominal, friendly skies. In truth, you could call “Commuter” mindlessly Hitchcockian (as some critics have). For me, it could only be labeled Hitchcockian if it was channeled on the veritable Redbox tip.

    Normally, Jaume Collet-Serra is one of the most efficient, thriller directors out there. He knows how to produce beautiful, streamlined camerawork and his flicks are always tension-filled and twisty. With “Commuter” however, the execution is sloppy this time around. The obligatory tension is there but the editing and plausibility factor are hackwork at best. Also, “Commuter’s” fistfight scenes are badly choreographed and its conclusion feels anti-climatic with the makings of a Hollywood cop out.

    In retrospect, you should see The Commuter for Neeson alone but know that Oskar Schindler and Collet-Serra have had better days. “Commuter” thanklessly adds co-stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Sadly, their roles as villain and would-be villain (spoiler) are too vague to examine. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • Let’s not kid ourselves: The Commuter, the fourth pairing of Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra, is not a great film. Like their previous offerings (Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night), it is a predictable but sturdy and effective popcorn pleaser, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that if one knows exactly what one is getting into.

    The 65-year-old Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a former NYPD cop now working as a life insurance salesman. His life has become nothing but a monotonous grind – as evidenced by the clever opening credits sequence, which condenses a year of his life into mere minutes – but two things conspire to break his cycle of tedium. Firstly, he’s unceremoniously fired from his job, which understandably deflates a guy who’s five years away from retirement – after all, he’s got two mortgages, a son going to college, and he and his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her role) are basically living hand to mouth. Lest one panic, Death of a Salesman this is not since hours later, during his train commute from New York to Tarrytown, he encounters a mysterious woman Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who offers him $100K to find a person named Prynne on the train or risk the lives of his fellow passengers and family.

    Unlike, say, Alfred Hitchcock, neither Collet-Serra nor the screenwriters (Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle) are particularly fixated on the inherent morality play this scenario produces. Nor should they be – after all, viewers are here to watch Neeson take names, kick ass, and brandish his special set of skills, all of which he does satisfyingly and effectually. Collet-Serra does well to build momentum and paranoia as MacCauley realises he’s involved in a vast conspiracy, and he certainly stages the climactic derailment with typical verve and vigour.

    Yet the best part of The Commuter has nothing to do with fist fights in close quarters or narrowly escaping oncoming trains or Neeson go about his business. Rather it’s the few minutes shared by Neeson and Farmiga as Joanna engages MacCauley in a seemingly innocuous conversation. Before all the incoherent nonsense takes over, it’s highly pleasing to watch two talented actors demonstrating how two grown-ups talking can be reason enough to recommend a film.

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  • “The Commuter” is not a good film. You know that I’m not a prude about action films: “Die Hard” is one of my all time favourites and I even gave this actor/director combo’s previous outing – “Non-Stop” – a rather generous three Fads. But like many of my commutes, this is a hundred minutes of life that I won’t get back again.

    Liam Neeson (“A Monster Calls”, “Taken 3”) plays Michael MacCauley an insurance salesman (no, I’m not making it up) who of course used to be a police officer with a certain set of skills. With advancing years, a couple of mortgages to keep up and a son about to go to college, he is financially rather exposed.

    When a bad day turns worse, the commuting MacCauley is approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga, “The Judge”, “Up In The Air”) who offers him a financial bail-out for doing “just one small thing”. No, it’s not for sex in the toilet… it’s to use his familiarity with the train and its normal passengers to find the person that ‘doesn’t fit there’. For there is a lot at stake and MacCauley is drawn into a perilous game where his own life and the lives of his son and wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern, “Downton Abbey”) are put at risk.

    What the inexperienced writers (Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle (“Non-stop”)) were clearly shooting for was a Hitchcockian “ordinary man in deep-water” style flick of the James Stewart “North by Northwest” variety…. but they really miss this by a mile. With the 65 year old Liam Neeson – here playing 60 – performing acrobatics on, under and across an express train, belief is not just suspended – it is hung drawn and quartered! The action is just ludicrously unrealistic.

    The plot also has more holes than a moth-eaten jumper. Omnipotence of the villains is evident, but never explained, and while they are fiendishly clever in some aspects they are face-palmingly stupid about others. (No spoilers, but the threat to MacCauley’s family is mind-numbingly foilable).

    A ‘major event’ at the end of reel two (if you’ve seen the spoilerish trailer you’ll know what this is) leads – notably without any ‘consequence’ – into a completely ridiculous final reel that beggars belief. It also includes a “twist” so obvious that the writers must have assumed an IQ of sub-50.

    This is a film that melds “Taken”, “Non-stop”, “Unstoppable”, “Strangers on a Train” and – most bizarrely and cringe-worthily – “Spartacus” to create a cinematic mess of supreme proportions. I put director Jaume Collet-Serra’s last film – “The Shallows” – into my Top 10 films of 2016. He’ll be lucky if this one doesn’t make my “Turkeys of the Year” list for 2018.


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