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A big, explosive train derailment lights up the screen late in Commuter, but this latest action vehicle for Liam Neeson runs off the rails a bit earlier.
However, for more than half the movie the latest collaboration between Neeson and director Jaume Collet Serra ( and All Night we are given a fun little puzzler to solve along with Neeson character.
Neeson portrays Michael MacCauley, a 60 year old former New York cop who has been selling life insurance in Manhattan. Michael and his family wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean Charles Chapman) live well outside the city.
Collet Serra shows us in the opening moments that over time Michael morning routine has stayed constant, with a long train ride to and from the city.
Hours before he is to take the train home one day, Michael is fired and given a severance package. This is a disaster for Michael, who five years from retirement and is about to send Danny off to college adding to the family already tight finances.
As he puts off telling Karen the bad news, he meets his former police partner, Alex (Patrick Wilson), at a bar. There, the pair encounter Hawthorne (Sam Neill), who recently has made captain.
On the train home after a mysterious brush with someone that has resulted in the loss of his phone Michael sees more familiar faces, those of his fellow daily riders, including Walt (Jonathan Banks).
There also are non regulars such as Joanna (Vera Farmiga). She strikes up a friendly chat with Michael that includes a hypothetical question, one that seems increasingly real as it goes on: Would he do something that would bring himself great financial reward if he would never know the impact to the other person? There is a down payment of $25,000 hidden in a bathroom on the train, she tells him, and $75,000 more that will be given to him upon completion of the task.
Joanna exits at the next stop, and Michael finds the cash, money he desperately needs. He has just committed to the job: finding a passenger and placing a GPS device on him or her that will allow Joanna associates to track the mark.
Via phone calls and string pulling, Joanna convinces him the people she represents are not to be trifled with and he should do this in the interest in keeping his family safe.
As Michael races against the clock he knows the passenger will be exiting at the final stop we watch him try to solve the mystery, which involves scanning the punched tickets on the back of passengers seats and verbally grilling some of them.
It is a fine mystery, and when the person is revealed deep into the story, we are shown the tiny clue we may have missed.
It helps that Commuter has Neeson, taking on these action roles that have resulted from the success of as a man with very particular set of skills trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter. The actor breaks no new ground here, but he remains enjoyable to watch.
One of the great disappointments of Commuter is the structure doesn allow for much screen time for the talented Farmiga. She and Neeson are interesting together in the early scene on the train, and we are left wanting much more of that.
And Collet Serra direction is a mixed bag. The train setting allows for him to give Commuter a cool claustrophobic feel, but a late fight scene leaves something to be desired. and are better efforts, but he also was working from better scripts.