I have to give those who made The Commuter props for trying to create an interesting mystery/suspense film which clearly offers a tip of the hat to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, here’s the trailer:
Liam Neeson is effectively the entire show here, playing ex-cop and now -but not for long- Insurance salesman Michael MacCauley. He has a loving wife and son and, day after day, commutes by train from his home to the “big city” for work.
As the movie begins, he goes through his day’s office routine while alert, and not so alert, viewers begin to see clues as to where the story is going. This, sadly, is one of the movie’s big problems and I’ll get into that in a moment.
MacCauley is called to his boss’ office and is told that he’s being laid off. MacCauley is understandably disturbed. He has mortgages and is only a few years away from retiring/getting a severance and *poof* that’s all out the window.
He then goes to a bar to meet a cop friend of his (Patrick Wilson) and there also meets the Chief of the police and more hints as to the plot are laid out.
From there, he heads back home via the train and it is there that he eventually meets Joanna (Vera Famiga, rounding out with Mr. Wilson the two leads from The Conjuring movies… though they share no screen time together here).
Joanna offers MacCauley an intriguing proposal: There’s $25,000 hidden in a bathroom within the train. He can take it and for that money and, for another $75,000 given to him afterwards, he is to identify someone on this train going to its final destination.
After making the offer, Joanna departs from the train and, curious, MacCauley checks the specified bathroom and, sure enough, finds the money. Obviously, its a welcome relief considering he just lost his job, but soon enough he realizes there is a sinister reason for all this.
I wanted to really, really like The Commuter, and as I said before it was clear the makers of the film put a great deal of effort in this Hitchockian pastiche.
However, and as I already mentioned, the film unfortunately hits you over the head with things you can see a mile coming. When the camera early on lingers on a news report of someone’s suicide, you know that this is going to mean something later in the film. When MacCauley shows off his wedding ring to his wife and she reciprocates in the movie’s opening minutes, that too comes back in force later on.
The movie’s villain(s) are also pretty easy to discern and whatever “shock” you’re supposed to have later on in the film regarding their allegiances are simply not all that shocking.
But the worst thing about the film, something my wife noted perhaps halfway through the movie, was that if these villains are so good and so connected and “high up” and all seeing as to what MacCauley does while in the train (including, for example, while quite hidden writes a “call the police” note in a newspaper), then how come they don’t know who the person is they’re hunting?
Given their efficiency and all, that becomes something that’s just too hard to swallow. And don’t get me started on this question: Why is this person everyone is hunting traveling alone if s/he is so damn important?
With all that said, the film isn’t a total bust.
If you are able to turn your brain off and enjoy it for what it is and not ask too many questions or scratch too hard under its obvious surface, the film is a decent suspense flick with some decent action.
Still, for me its hard to outright recommend The Commuter and that’s a crying shame. Despite good acting and a clear attempt to create a modern Hitchock suspense drama, this film really needed a little more work on its script and a lot more work on how to more subtly deliver the story.