For years now, there’s been a particular genre of action cinema that has consistently lured moviegoers to the box office—films in which Liam Neeson has “a very particular set of skills.” Starting with Taken in 2008, Neeson began a second life as a gritty hero, someone with a talent for violence and a long, but explosive, fuse. Within this genre is an even more exciting sub-genre: films in which Neeson plays a man with considerably fewer skills, but a very healthy amount of desperation. The Commuter fits squarely into this latter category, and it’s all the more enjoyable for it.
Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is 60 years old (a fact he repeats a lot throughout the film). He sells life insurance, he lives with his wife and son in the suburbs, and he commutes every day to New York on the Metro-North railroad. He’s a former NYPD cop, but that doesn’t make him Sherlock Holmes—at best, he just has a better eye for details and the ability to throw a punch. As the movie begins, Michael loses his job, leaving him worried for his family’s future as he gets ready to send his kid to college. Then, as he rides the train home, things start to get a lot stranger.
Jaume Collet-Serra, the film’s wonderful director, has always exulted in details—it’s what helps him stand out as an artist even though he mostly makes this kind of easily dismissed genre fare. He’s collaborated with Neeson four times now (having also made Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night) and has a couple of inventive horror thrillers (Orphan, The Shallows) to his name. From minute one, The Commuter is filled with little hints that will end up mattering to the plot at large, and half the fun is watching Collet-Serra toss them into the margins of the frame and see if the viewer will notice.