Skip to main content

Review: "The Commuter"

For most of his career Oscar nominee Liam Neeson did a remarkable job of shifting from prestige films like Schindler's List, The Mission and Gangs of New York to edgy genre pictures like Darkman, Gun Shy and Batman Begins. Neeson, a tall, intimidating Irishman with a looming presence, knew his real strength was in those piercing eyes of his. They could emote pain and despair just as easily as they could switch to steely grit. Looking back at his filmography now, it's surprising to see that it took until 2009's Taken for studios to cash in on his leading man specialness. Taken became an unexpected hit, grossing $226 million globally on a modest budget of $25 million. And the formula of Taken was simple: position Neeson as a trusting family man and father who is put to the test when his daughter is kidnapped. Oh, and it's also good to mention that Neeson's character is a retired CIA agent who knows how to kick the shit out of anybody.

But what made the first Taken (they've made three so far, plus a spinoff TV series in 2017) such a hit with moviegoers wasn't the intense action or the seedy sex trafficking circuits. What made Taken a hit was that Neeson finally found the osmosis for his physical screen presence and his impressive dramatic chops in the mold of not just any action hero, but an action hero who you would also want to be your dad. Neeson's version of an action hero wasn't a loose cannon asshole who was fucking girls left and right while driving a shitty sports car. Rather, Neeson donned a dark (dad) blazer, carrying that old school man's man mentality, while genuinely emoting a serious love for his onscreen family. We rooted for him because deep down we wanted him to kick ass for us (hypothetically speaking).

The nerve that Taken struck prompted Hollywood to recast Neeson in various iterations of the film (Non-Stop, A Walk Among Tombstones and Run All Night) to mostly tepid results. However, I'm happy to report that Hollywood's latest attempt, The Commuter, is a successful endeavor. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows), The Commuter plays to Taken's notes but dials it all back a notch. Instead of a retired CIA agent, Neeson's Michael MacCauley is a an ex-cop who now sells life insurance. Instead of trotting around Europe, MacCauley rides the Metro-North train leaving New York City. And instead of his daughter getting kidnapped and traded into an underground sex slave ring, MacCauley's wife and son are threatened to be in peril if he doesn't play ball with some powerful people.

After an opening montage that establishes MacCauley's decade-long routine of taking the train to and from work everyday, we follow him on one of those days so spectacularly thrilling, it could only happen in the movies. When MacCauley is on the homebound train, tired and stressed with financial troubles on his mind, he is approached by a striking woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who tells him there's $25,000 cash in the train's restroom and another $75,000 waiting for him if he can find a passenger on the same train who goes by the name Prynne -- and then plant a tracking device on his or her bag. Of course, we and MacCauley know that there are some sinister implications behind this, as we're to assume this Prynne has a price on his or her head, so by planting the tracking device MacCauley would in fact be marking a person for death.

Collet-Serra does a pretty dazzling job for the first 45 minutes of moving the plot along with a zippiness and excitement that keeps us on edge to see how far down this rabbit hole MacCauley ends up. After all, $100,000 is $100,000. And from a filmmaking standpoint, Collet-Serra and his team of collaborators pull off some nifty movie wizardry, namely in a timelapse overhead shot of MacCauley walking through Grand Central Terminal as hundreds of passengers walk by him and in several digital dolly shots that go through the punched holes of train tickets sticking out of passengers' seats (the latter is very much inspired by those digital dolly shots through appliances and furniture in David Fincher's Panic Room). Eventually though, Neeson has to put his MacCauley into full Taken mode with exhaustive hand-to-hand combat scenes (some good, yes) and crazy escapes from death (he gives Tom Cruise a run for his money in the train sequence from the first Mission: Impossible) but that shouldn't spoil the impressive escalation of suspense the film achieved in the first hour.

Eventually the film runs out of energy and twists, as we all figure out who the "real" villain is about half an hour before the film ends...which is probably why screenwriters Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle decide to literally take the story off the rails for the third act. Still, The Commuter is a lot of fun and builds so much Hitchcockian suspense in its first half that it's very easy to forgive its missteps during the final stretch. This is the Liam Neeson action picture that'll make you want to tell your dad to be careful the next time he plans on commuting. And that you love him.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Winnie the Pooh Mashup Trailer: "Christopher Robin & Ted"

"Sooner or later, your past catches up to you." That's the tagline  Disney is going with for their live-action Winnie the Pooh movie Christopher Robin , starring Ewan McGregor . While watching the teaser trailer (which debuted today) and getting my first look at a real life Winnie the Pooh talking bear, I couldn't help but be reminded of  Seth MacFarlane 's Ted , the R-rated comedy which featured a protagonist who's a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear. Ironically enough, MacFarlane's talking bear Ted has a much more cuddly and lovable look to him. Disney decided to give Winnie the Pooh a crude and homely-looking appearance -- not exactly what you'd expect for their intended child audience. So I decided to create this mashup trailer, which rewrites Christopher Robin's (McGregor) backstory to suggest that Ted was his original bear and he just sewed up the teddy bear's parts to look like Winnie the Pooh. Talk about your past catching up to y

Watch: ALL OF VENOM: Mashup of “All of Me” and “Venom”

Venom , the latest Marvel (anti) superhero film, limps into theatres this weekend with an unimpressive 30% on Rotten Tomatoes . However, I'm sure that won't prevent it from making boo koo bucks at the box office. What I'm more interested in is how Venom will fit into the annals of film history -- because it does! While this isn't my first Venom mashup video (see my The Venom Drop teaser trailer), I do think that my new mashup, All Of Venom , really speaks to what Venom  ultimately will be remembered for:  Tom Hardy 's committed physical performance and how it plays as a companion piece to the 1984 romantic fantasy comedy All of Me starring ( Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin ). In Venom , Hardy's character Eddie Brock gets possessed by an alien symbiote and must learn to share his host body with said being. In All of Me , Martin's character gets possessed by the soul of the recently deceased Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin) and -- yup, you guessed it -- must lea

Watch: Errol Morris' 1991 Documentary on Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time"

Yesterday we learned that the brilliant and world-renowned theoretical physicist  Stephen Hawking  passed away at the age of 76. In the early 1960s,  Hawking developed an early form of motor neurone disease, debilitating and paralyzing him throughout the decades. However, he did not let such a devastating physical disability stop him from becoming a truly iconic figure, thinker and leader in the sciences, and in specific, cosmology. Hawking's built a legacy of scientific works, breakthroughs and publications throughout his academic career but it was his best selling book "A Brief History of Time" that caught the eye of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Oscar winner for  The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara ). Morris' doc A Brief History of Time  looks at the impressive life and work of Hawking, told in the signature way that only Morris can, all scored to a soundtrack composed by  Philip Glass . While the film is ava

#InformedImages: “There Will Be Blood” and “Narcos: Mexico”

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works. I remember the exact the moment it clicked together for me. It was about half an hour into episode 2 (directed by  Josef Kubota Wladyka ) of Narcos: Mexico on Netflix . The camera crept across the dry, desert landscape toward a hole in the ground, where Rafael Caro Quintero (a.k.a. Rafa, played by Tenoch Huerta Mejía ) was digging furiously, in an attempt create a makeshift aqueduct to help grow his field of marijuana. It recalled images from the earlier sections of Paul Thomas Anderson 's masterpiece T here Will Be Blood, when Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis ) was digging for oil underneath the rocky ground. Then, as I continued to watch Narcos: Mexico , a more striking visual parallel to There Will Be Blood began to emerge. For example, as Rafa and his boss Miguel Ángel F

Review: "Loveless"

Some people should never get married. Likewise, some people should never become parents. Crudely enough, the protagonists of  Andrey Zvyagintsev 's new film Loveless fit both of those descriptions. The Leviathan helmer returns with another bleak and unflinchingly honest portrayal of family dysfunction and social politics. Loveless is also a commentary on modern Moscow. Zvyagintsev uses the car radio as the film's cultural master of ceremonies, informing the audience of the state of Russia, the political climate and expected societal norms. In fact, the only other time the car radio isn't used for exposition, is when a character turns it into an aural weapon to antagonize another character, by blaring loud metal rock during an inappropriate time. The coal-hearted characters in Loveless listen to the radio, but hardly to each other. Early in the film we learn that Zhenya ( Maryana Spivak ) and Boris ( Aleksey Rozin ) are in the final steps of finalizing their divorce.

Review: "November"

The protagonist of Estonian filmmaker Rainer Sarnet 's  Where Souls Go (from 2007), a fifteen-year-old girl named Ann, sets the plot in motion when she visits a satanist's website and says a prayer (in an effort to seek solutions) that inadvertently gives her newborn stepbrother a heart disease. Ann also has a poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on her bedroom wall, prominent in many shots of the film. This image is a strong representation of Sarnet's interests: to acknowledge how fantasy (with its mythical creatures and wish-granting powers) shares an overlap with hell (and its evil incarnates). Considering this, it's no wonder that Sarnet chose to adapt Andrus Kivirähk 's novel " Rehepapp ," which focuses on 19th-century Estonian village peasants and the dead souls that lurk in the forest, for his latest film November . How can I best describe November ? Well, it's as if Michael Haneke 's The White Ribbon was re-constr

VIDEO ESSAY: Film Fidelity: Beyoncé's "Lemonade"

Beyoncé knocked the wind out of the Internet when she dropped her nearly hour-long visual album Lemonade on HBO this past Saturday night, April 23rd. The inspired film is a remarkable piece to be sure--even for the Queen Bee herself. And while everything from the sound design to the collective creative direction from the team of filmmakers, editors and art department is exceptional, much of the receptive chatter online has instead circled around the implied infidelity that spurs the narrative of Lemonade ; the idea that hubby Jay Z did Beyoncé wrong with a certain "Becky with the good hair." Which is too bad; that's the kind of fodder for tabloids and it marginalizes how much great film art is packed into this thing. So, as a reactionary cinephile, I thought I'd redirect the public's attention to the striking images that Lemonade presents, the ideas behind them and, more pointedly, where these vignettes drew inspiration from. In contrast to the possi

Watch: PERFECT PIKACHU (Mashup of "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" and "Perfect")

On Tuesday May 7th,  Warner Bros. and Ryan Reynolds trolled the Internet by pretending to upload the entire  Pokémon Detective Pikachu  movie to YouTube, a couple of days before its theatrical release. As I type this, the  YouTube video  -- which actually shows Pikachu working out to some 80s jazzercise music -- has 1,441,931 views and counting. It's a clever marketing ploy, feeding right into the piracy culture of the interwebs and poking fun at the rick-rolling clickbait urgency.  Within moments of watching this rick-roll video, I recalled the 1985 romance-fitness club-meet cute that is Perfect , starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis . Then the idea clicked to replace Curtis with Pikachu and...well...you can just watch for yourself...

Watch: Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE CATS

It's been quite the day for trailers. Ad Astra . It Chapter Two . Top Gun: Maverick . But I don't think anyone was REALLY ready for the promised "digital fur technology" of Tom Hooper 's Cats . The trailer is pure nightmare fuel. While watching it, the first thing that struck me was how dark and dreadful the film looked. Like physically and literally. I started thinking about how the film would probably be enjoyable while on some drugs. Then I started fixating on a shot of Idris Elba on top of a multi-colored lit building and the poster for Gaspar Noe 's Enter The Void  suddenly popped in my head. And after that, there was no turning back...

Watch the Summed Frames of "Post Tenebras Lux" Create Video Art

Carlos Reygadas won the Best Director prize for his visually striking Post Tenebras Lux at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival . The images in Reygarads' film looked like they emerged from a dream; there was a soft focus around the edges of the frame, giving its characters the cinematic equivalent of a screen halo. Now those indelible visuals from Post Tenebras Lux are challenged and intensified in a captivating video art piece by Kevin L. Ferguson . Using progressive summed frames, Ferguson creates a unique side-by-side cine-essay ruminating on two ideas: what we see and how much of it we see in total. On the left side of the screen, Ferguson presents a still from every ten seconds of the first five minutes of  Post Tenebras Lux and on the right side of the screen he sums those progressive frames into ten-second intervals. The result is an arresting piece of moving image impressionism. See for yourself.