‘Blu-ray or Bust’
THE COMMUTER (2018, PG-13, 105 minutes, STUDIOCANAL/LIONSGATE)
Liam Neeson kinda backed himself into a corner.
With the success of his action films, the sixty-seven-year-old (yeah, you read that correctly) actor did something we haven’t seen too much of: an over-fifties legitimately good actor shooting up bad guys. Besides Bruce Willis (who is sixty-five) and Sean Connery (who’s last major film was an actioner, albeit not a very good one…), few older actors see the level of success they have had in action-oriented cinema.
Mr. Neeson is an exception, really, because he was such a late bloomer to the genre. 2008’s TAKEN seemed to thrust him into the action movie spotlight; while his long career was no stranger to films of that nature, many of his projects were dramas. From TV mini-series to an Oscar nomination for his titular role in SCHINDLER’S LIST, he was a thought-provoking actor, a man who oozed intelligence and quiet charisma. Then he started shootin’ folks.
THE COMMUTER stars Mr. Neeson as insurance salesman Michael MacCauley, a working Joe—and ex-cop—who takes the train to work every day. It just so happens that he is singled out to identify a particular fellow passenger whom certain parties want dead on the same day he is fired, so the money being offered for him to place a GPS device on said passenger is his initial motivation. One of the lovely aspects of this film is that it keeps you guessing; while Michael’s reasons for doing what the nefarious woman who tasked him with the job (the wonderfully unsympathetic Vera Farmiga) changes, and predictably so, the rest of this Hitchcockian tale unfolds in unexpected ways.
You have first-time screenwriters Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi to thank for that. Their script is smart and precise, and director Jaume Collet-Serra (a man who has worked with Mr. Neeson on three other films) paces the story wonderfully. Add a moving and affective score by Roque Baños and you have nearly all the elements needed to make a gripping thriller. But it is the cinematography by Paul Cameron which places this film above so many others that try to capture what Alfred Hitchcock did so eloquently back in the day. He turns a confined space into the most expansive of settings; you are stuck on a train with Mr. Neeson and Company for the majority of the film, and yet despite the limitations, his eye sweeps through the set with unerring ease.
My only complaint is the occasionally questionable special effects. Nothing glaring—remember, I’m the critical critic, and my decades of watching/studying film at times make me a bit unforgiving. But when every single stinkin’ detail is held to such a high standard as the rest of the film, you would hope that a few moments of CGI would be done well enough to not distract from everyone else’s hard work. And while those few times stood out to me, they are not enough to detract—or DERAIL (yeah, yeah, PUN ALERT)—from the rest of the action.
On a totally unrelated note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the film’s opening sequence. Not only does Collett-Serra know his way around an action film, but his flair for ingenuity is something worth keeping an eye on. The way he sets up MacCauley’s daily routine is nearly ingenious, and is thrilling to watch even if it isn’t part of the action unfolding in the rest of the film. Some directors come up with a brilliant opening sequence that does not fit the rest of the film (one spectacular example of this is 2016’s THE FOREST, in which the first five-seven minutes was better than anything else in the movie); it is either tonally different or just doesn’t fit the rest of the storytelling. But Collett-Serra’s opening here is a strong start to an efficient and eloquent means of storytelling which works wonderfully.
The special features include a nine minute behind-the-scenes which is important to watch based on location alone, and a four minute one that is all about how they shot the film. It is the latter of the two that is most impressive, based solely on the innovative aspects of the director’s technical methodology.
It does not appear that the action genre is done with Mr. Neeson just yet; he will be starring in the upcoming MARLOWE (based on the Raymond Chandler private detective) and HARD POWDER. Either of those titles sound like he’s looking to take a dramatic break...?
Film Grade: A-
Special Features: B+
Blu-ray Necessary: Absolutely
-- T.S. Kummelman