The Commuter is Quite a Ride!

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog before, but I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie, a world-renowned British mystery writer who wrote many novels and short stories from the 1920s to the 1970s. She had a very distinct style of writing that emphasized brain-bending, seemingly unsolvable puzzles. Now, if she were alive today, and she were tasked with being a scriptwriter for a Liam Neeson action thriller, it might look something like The Commuter, the latest film from StudioCanal, the French film studio that clearly wishes it was American. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, Non-Stop), the film is based on a very simple premise – on a seemingly ordinary commuter train running between New York City and the suburbs along the Hudson, there is someone who doesn’t belong there. Could you figure out who that person is before the train reaches its destination?

Neeson stars as a seemingly ordinary insurance salesman who is on his way home, feeling dejected after just being laid off, riding the same commuter train he always rides from Manhattan to his suburban home, when a woman who claims to be a psychologist offers him $100,000 to find a specific passenger on the train who she says “doesn’t belong”. At first, he thinks this must be some sort of prank, but as the train rides along on its journey north out of the city, he begins to realize that there is much more to this mystery than what appears on the surface, and he may have just gotten himself in over his head.

Writers Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi have concocted a very tight script that does an excellent job keeping the tension high as more and more layers of the mystery are peeled away to reveal even more questions. The movie is full of very effective set-ups and payoffs; even the smallest details start to become important to the story as both the train and the movie approach their destination. Meanwhile, Collet-Serra clearly has begun to master how to use stylism and artistic flair in a way that actually serves the movie, and isn’t just there to be artsy for artiness’s sake. The film is very effective at delivering edge-of-your-seat excitement throughout.

However, the film’s biggest weakness – ironically enough, given it’s a Liam Neeson film – is the action sequences. After spending so much energy on creating a realistic, and very tense, mystery, the action scenes seem a bit over the top and cartoonish, particularly near the end. It’s as if someone at the studio decided early on that “This is a movie starring the Taken guy, he NEEDS to do at least some crazy stunts!” Still, at least the action scenes are competently shot and it’s easy to follow the action, and they aren’t too distracting.

Still, this is a great movie to start 2018. An exciting thriller that is just the adrenaline rush I needed to get ready for what is gearing up to be a very big year in film. A 9 out of 10.

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