When THE COMMUTER opens, the audience is introduced to the protagonist, Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson) as a family man with wife, Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and teen son, Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman). With cinematic wit, Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra reveals Michael to be a dedicated husband and father, though not the perfect model. Michael has serious arguments with his wife and has financial difficulty supporting Danny through college. Michael is also shown to be a sincere and honest insurance agent, but loses his job due to uncontrollable circumstances. The introduction is crucial or the audience to identify with a likeable hardworking and decent human being.
The opening 10 minutes of the action thriller THE COMMUTER is so layered and informative that one knows right after that, that what comes after must be a fantastically good movie or something that can never match the impressive introduction. Thankfully, it is the former.
Then the best thing about the film happens Michael does the most boring minutes of his everyday routine (his daily commute home on the train) – which the film turns into 90 minutes of audience excitement.
On the train, a mysterious stranger (Vera Farmiga) contacts him and offers him $100,000 if he identifies a hidden passenger on his train before the last stop. He is supposed to place a tag on her bag. If he declines the offer, his wife and son will be killed. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes he is caught in the midst of a deadly criminal conspiracy and that his life and the lives of his fellow passengers are at risk. Nasty Big Brother is watching Michael’s every move.
THE COMMUTER is the fourth collaboration between director Collet-Serra and Neeson and the second between the director and Farminga. The comfort working level shows and has improved. For a silly implausible plot, Collet Serra keeps the film not only highly credible but draws the audience into Michael’s anxiety. The audience also does not want to see the family hurt or Michael losing the money, which ironical he does. Like the best Hitchcock films like NORTH BY NORTHWEST, what conspiracy the whistleblower is uncovering is never revealed in the film nor is it any important. The same can be said for McGuffin in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. The bad guys are after Richard Thornhill (Cary Grant) from start to finish but the reason is unimportant and not revealed either.
The action sequences like the train fight (that looks like it was done in one take) are impressive. Though set in the New York subway, the film was actually shot at the railway station in Surrey, England and at Pinewood Studios.
THE COMMUTER is a smart and best film so far of the year. It also spreads into other genres like romance, family drama, espionage, action and thriller. Never a dull moment from start to finish, with a plot containing many twists and unexpected turns, while keeping it simple to understand, THE COMMUTER, is what exciting entertainment should be.