Don't commit to Liam Neeson in 'The Commuter'

The Commuter

Don't commit to Liam Neeson in 'The Commuter'

Liam Neeson fans can look forward to another top-notch thriller filled with high-stakes action, mystery, suspense and drama.

If a movie is the same thing you've seen a thousand times before, does that necessarily make it bad? If you're only a casual viewer of either Neeson's action movies or action movies in general, there should be a few solid surprises throughout.

There has, thus far, been a pleasing interchangeability to the titles in the banging, clattering action oeuvre cultivated by Liam Neeson and Spanish genre maestro Jaume Collet-Serra. That everyday routine gets shaken up courtesy of Michael's company letting him go, the 60-year-old now faced with an overbearing challenge.

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The film sees Neeson's character, Michael McCauley, get wrapped up in a unsafe proposition on his commute from the city to Westchester County when a mysterious stranger offers him $100,000 to identify a certain passenger by the end of the line. Naturally, Michael seems reluctant at first, but the newly unemployed, family man, desperate for the quick cash being offered, ultimately gives in. "If I identify him, someone on this train is gonna kill him". Though, amusing enough, watching Collet-Serra and Neeson lean back on what works for them works for us. The Commuter doesn't boast an abundance of action, but the director uses his star and the setting in which his character finds himself to the best of his ability. (You get the idea that this is how Neeson lives his life, too, pretending he's merely a down-to-earth type and not at all a grizzled badass.) Then one day he's unceremoniously let go by his employer, and after catching a beer with his old pal from the force, he gets on the train home and gets caught in the web of a woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga). The plot mechanics don't matter almost so much as the visceral feelings of strength and relevance that a film like this imbues, and sometimes it's nice just to get caught up in a stupid fantasy. The film plays out precisely as you expect it to, and the reveals of the mystery offer very little of substance. But easy, unsubtle, unabashedly masculine action films don't need nuance as long as they're this much of a goofy pleasure to watch.

Thank goodness for Liam Neeson! The supporting players are also doing commendable work here, chief among them being Farmiga, who effortlessly enhances the mysterious nature of her antagonist character. He knows well how to shoot Neeson, following the actor's hulking frame from vehicle to auto. If we're to take Neeson at his word, The Commuter is his last time playing action hero. There is no denying the film's screenplay could have been stronger, more streamlined, and the convoluted and clichéd nature of how it all plays out hurts the experience. Neeson and Collet-Serra's whooshing, whiplash-inducing fourth collaboration could as easily be titled "Run Non-Stop Into the Unknown" - a moving-train whodunit that makes Kenneth Branagh's jacked-up "Murder on the Orient Express" remake look like "Jeanne Dielman" by comparison, it's so concerned with its own sheer speed that any semblance of storytelling logic is left waving from the platform.

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