‘Commuter’ gives visceral look into train life but ultimately derails


Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra has carved out a nice niche for himself as a purveyor of elegantly-crafted schlock. Although he started in horror, Collet-Serra has found a groove with highly efficient, extremely effective thrillers. His 2016 feature “The Shallows” became a cultural phenomenon with the simplest of premises: Blake Lively vs. shark. In his latest effort “The Commuter,” he teams up for the fourth time with his muse, Liam Neeson, for a pop noir set aboard a commuter train: “Conspiracy on the 6:25 to Cold Spring.”

Michael (Neeson) is a middle-class family man, his happy, suburban life detailed in a brilliant opening montage of mornings at home and on the way to work, on the train he’s taken for 10 years into Manhattan to sell life insurance. On this particular day, Michael is unceremoniously fired, five years from retirement, no severance, with his mortgage due and his kid imminently departing for a pricey private college.

He’s two beers deep on the train when a strange woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him. Purporting to be a behavioral scientist, she puts forth a hypothetical question that turns out to be all too real. Would you find and do something to another passenger on this train for $100,000? Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, but as soon as Michael gets a whiff of the cash, he’s already in too deep with a shadowy, anonymous, murderous mob. He’s obligated to search for a passenger going by “Prynne.”

Trains have always made great settings for thrillers — going back as far as 1896, when “Arrival of a Train” thrilled and terrified audiences. Collet-Serra makes good use of the limitations, opportunities and unique situations of this particular train, carrying friends, strangers and enemies alike. The jocular characters are reminiscent of the everyday folk that gave “Speed” so much of its charm.

It’s fun to imagine Collet-Serra hopping a Metro-North train from Grand Central and falling in love with the details of its specific and contained culture. Collet-Serra’s rich depiction of train life is a sensory plunge into the hustling chaos that is exacting in its precision. He and cinematographer Paul Cameron utilize visceral hand-held camerawork alongside dizzyingly elaborate zooms between punched passenger tickets. The bold style breathes life into the rather generic script by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle, which is a serviceable mystery with some tepid social commentary about big banks and bad systems stomping on the little guy.

In the current state of Neeson’s career, he’s a man with a very specific set of skills. And here, he’s an ex-cop, trained to observe tics of human behavior and assess threats. As the mystery deepens, his goals evolve, not content with just finishing his task but finishing the entire group that put him in this sorry mess. It’s at this point when the story, well, derails.

The twisty tale keeps pointing toward “a conspiracy” behind the motive for Michael’s increasingly harrowing task, but it never explains what the conspiracy is, so when anyone is revealed to have been a part of said conspiracy, it falls flat. All of the elements are there for stylish and suspenseful flick, but the suspense seems to have been forgotten. Ultimately, “The Commuter” gets the job done, but it won’t get hearts racing.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

ICYMI: How high design can deliver the art of living
ICYMI: How high design can deliver the art of living

This story about how  Heather McKinney and  Brian Carlson of  McKinney York Architects helped artist and educator  Katelena Hernandez Cowles and her husband, financial planer  James Cowles, plan a home fit for the rest of their lives has enjoyed...
Sesame on the ziti, and we couldn't be happier
Sesame on the ziti, and we couldn't be happier

There's something to be learned from even the simplest recipes, and this bowl proves the point. Radicchio's bitter edge mellows once this vivid chicory spends seconds in a hot pan. That same pan, graced with a little olive oil, can then immediately coax firm grape tomatoes into almost-bursting beauties. Ziti tends to get baked into cheesy casseroles...
Texas books that tell us unexpected things about us
Texas books that tell us unexpected things about us

Here’s a look at some recently released Texas-themed books plus some older titles we think should be celebrated. “J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind.” Steven L. Davis. University of Texas Press. What is left to say about “Mr. Texas”? For decades, I’ve dodged folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie, who remains to many...
Dinges: Lead investigative reporter Brian Collister departs KXAN

Brian Collister, KXAN’s lead investigative reporter, has departed the station. In an interview with the American-Statesman, Collister, who spent nearly four years at the city’s NBC affiliate, said he’s already busy looking for his next opportunity. “Like any relationship, sometimes the parties decide they need to go in a new...
If you want to mix it up, a duck stir-fry fits the bill
If you want to mix it up, a duck stir-fry fits the bill

Want to expand your culinary horizons in 2018 without expanding your belt? You could start by picking up a package of duck breast fillets. More stores are carrying them fresh, but you can typically find them frozen. Americans eat precious little duck; the 2016 per person average was something like 5 pounds, versus a whopping 92 pounds for chicken....
More Stories