In The Commuter, Liam Neeson plays Michael MacCauley. He’s a regular guy! He takes the commuter train to work every morning, and takes the same train home every day. He used to be a cop, but then he started selling insurance so he could spend more time with his family, and then one day, he gets fired from his job. He’s got a kid about to go to college, so he’s freaking out about money.
Enter Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who approaches MacCauley on the commuter train home, and she makes an offer that boils down to, “I’ll give you $100,000 if you use your skills as a former police officer to find a certain person on the train and attach a GPS device to his or her bag. The name is Prynne, and he or she doesn’t belong on this train.” Those are the only clues he gets. There are about 100 people on the train.
Michael is suspicious, but intrigued. He finds the $25,000 down payment, and he thinks, “Hmmm. I’ll just take the money and jump off the train,” except that someone approaches him with his wife’s ring and says, “By taking the $25K, you accepted the offer. If you do not follow through, we will kill your wife and son.”
In other words, it’s basically Taken set on a commuter train. There are scenes where 65-year-old Liam Neeson beats the shit out of much younger people; he yells and sweats and engages in feats of derring-do that defy his age; and he does exclaim a version of, “Give me back my son!” If you like Taken and its many, many iterations, well, maybe you’ll like The Commuter, even if it is a watered-down version of better Neeson movies, with a mystery that holds no intrigue and plot holes large enough to drive a commuter train through.
There are other actors in this, too. Jonathan Banks, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth McGovern, and Sam Neill, but their roles are small. This is a Liam Neeson movie. He’s the actor who spends most of the film walking up and down the aisles of a commuter train, increasingly frantic, beseeching passengers to listen. He doesn’t so much use his skill as a police office to figure out who he’s supposed to locate as much as he waits until the end of the line and accuses everyone of being the “suspect” until one of them avails him or herself. That’s to say: There’s not a lot of detective work involved in The Commuter. It’s an action film that’s short on the action and heavy on the Neeson — it feels like a movie based on a mass-market paperback (it is not). It’s about as generic as one might expect for a January movie released into theaters but specifically designed for Saturday afternoons on TNT.