‘The Commuter’ Has Plot Holes You Could Drive a Train Through
Nothing makes any sense in this new Liam Neeson tough guy thriller.
The Commuter follows Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), an ex-cop who just got fired from his insurance agent job. At 60, with two mortgages and a kid about to go to college, his options seem very limited. And then, while commuting home on the train, he’s approached by a mysterious woman who introduces herself as Joanna (Vera Farmiga). She makes him an unusual offer: locate someone on the train for her, and he’ll get one hundred thousand dollars. He doesn’t think the offer is serious at first, but when he receives his wife’s ring in a package, he’s faced with no other choice but to do Joanna’s bidding.
The Commuter is one of those films that you can’t really think about. Its plot makes absolutely no sense. Its antagonist is part of a criminal conspiracy that is able to watch the hero’s every move, and is apparently powerful enough to delay an entire train system so that he can witness a murder that they orchestrated. This immediately brings up the question why they’d need MacCauley to find their mystery person in the first place, and why they had so little information on said target anyway. Thematically, the film actually has a lot going on, but it’s all matched with a plot so ludicruous that it hardly matters.
Adding to that ridiculousness is that MacCauley doesn’t seem to be that good of a detective anyway. The movie is structured such that he’s basically trying to brute force a solution through this mystery, basically pointing a finger at one person after another, before invariably being proven wrong. There’s no thrill of discovery present in the film, and there are points where it feels like the audience is at least two steps ahead of the protagonist. And the film isn’t really willing to let the character deal with the consequences of his mistakes, ultimately glossing over his complicity in what went on.
It gets squirmy, especially as the film tries to deploy some sort of statement about income inequality and the brokenness of the financial system. To its credit, the film is pretty consistent with its politics, the setting itself a representation of the kind of drudgery that the working class put up with while those in power pull their strings. But it’s hard to reckon with those big concepts when the film is so actively stupid almost all of the time. The discourse just doesn’t rise above the noise.
The film’s greatest strength lies in its style. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is an excellent technician who almost always goes an extra step in making his scenes compelling. There’s real momentum in the way he shoots something as simple as the main character walking up and down the train aisles. The film gets creative in shooting its violence as well, a brawl in the limited space shot in a one long, amazing take that exhibits some real wizardry. As always, Liam Neeson’s imposing physical presence proves to be a formidable asset. The script doesn’t keep up with Neeson’s talents, but he gives it his all anyway, to mixed results.
The Commuter has plot holes so big you could drive a train through it. Action movies can be forgiven for their lapses in logic, certainly, but there has to be a limit. And the added wrinkle of this being a mystery brings narrative demands that the film just isn’t interested in meeting. The film can still be reasonably entertaining, and Neeson and the direction bring all manner of fun to the proceedings. But it requires a complete shutdown of thought, a willingness to overlook the most basic plot details, all for the sake of a film that isn’t even really insane enough for that kind of viewing.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.