Kraig Taylor-Bryant gets his train of thought on the right track as he watched The Commuter...
"What if someone asked you to do one little thing but would affect another passenger on this train? Would you do it?"
This is a film that questions the morality of an ex-cop, and teaches him that, in some situations, there isn't really a right thing, only a choice that will end badly in either outcome. I found The Commuter to have a fantastic trailer, which is what led me to believe that this film had tremendous potential. After watching it, I noticed that it had ideas of the main protagonist's struggle between what is the right thing to do and what he cares about and feels is more important to him. I came to this conclusion after a woman approaches him on a train and says that she's trying to figure out what kind of person he is, by having him choose to kill someone to save his family or to not kill them, causing him to put his family at risk.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the plot, The Commuter follows the life of ex-detective Michael MacCauley, played by Liam Neeson, and his working life as an insurance salesman, until he loses his job, forcing him leave work feeling depressed and questioning what to do next. On his way home on the train, he’s approached by the woman, Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who tells him that he needs to find someone who doesn’t belong, who goes by the name of Prynne. If he can find them, his family will be safe and he will receive a hundred thousand dollars.
One of the hopes I had for this film was that it would push the main character over the edge of morality, be a film that drives a cop to do something they haven't done before, act, without asking questions. And of course, that’s what makes things difficult for the character because he’s concerned it could end with the person dying if it involves being paid such a large sum of money. But it really disappointed me that Michael wasn’t actually pushed over the edge like I believe he should have been. To make this film even better, I think that we should have seen a “white knight” character change its colours, and witnessed Michael eventually do the job he’s given, to kill the person he was sent after, to save his family. Despite the fact that this would make a darker ending than it was, it would also teach a lesson to the audience, a lesson that even the best cops follow their heart over the law, and that we’re all human.
Another issue I had with this film was that the main character was 60 years old. I personally think a character in his forties would have made things a little more interesting because, in the one or two scenes where he is fighting, it would help us as an audience to see him as the ex-cop that we have heard him to be, and see him as a man that is fighting for his family's life, instead of an older man who is being beaten up a severe amount, and somehow has the energy to keep moving around, considering his age. This is why I would have picked someone in their forties, because they may be out of experience enough for there to be a struggle during the fight scenes, but for him to remember enough of his time as a cop, and be athletic enough to avoid some attacks by people on the train and throw a few punches back. It would also explain how he has the strength to keep going, and do the kind of thing that Liam Neeson’s character does in this film. I mean, would you as a viewer believe that a 60-year-old insurance salesman would stay in shape enough to be able to hold himself up while climbing aboard a moving train?
Some of the action in this film is also what lets it down for me. Not because it wasn’t intense, but because it was too intense. I understand that a dangerous person could end up doing whatever it takes to get a witness killed, but derailing a train? It’s the kind of thing that people would ask questions about and, even if it looked like Michael was holding the people on the train hostage, it wouldn’t make sense to risk killing the hostages by derailing a train or risking it crashing. I also think that if such a thing were to happen there would need to be a build-up of sorts, one big thing happening after another to build the suspense for the audience, and I just felt as if it was a scene that didn’t belong in the same film, maybe in one of Liam Neeson’s other films such as Taken, but certainly not in this one.
What I did like about the film though was the moderate suspense of people dying, and of people watching him. It kept the thrill of things natural in the sense that it was always reminding us as an audience that protagonist and his family are in danger and the looks he received from other people, along with the odd fight scene, helped it build towards the death of a person (not including the death of a person by being pushed in front of a bus, just to establish that the people he’s dealing with are dangerous), which is what really made me admire the first half of the film.
There are surprising little details in this film that I noticed after the second watch that really made me appreciate how little things in the plot are explained, and also make Joanna, the person who's asking Michael to do this, seem more dangerous, because they know how to plan everything. For example, when I noticed that Michael’s phone was taken, so that he couldn’t immediately call someone for help. It almost led me to believe that they somehow knew that one of the people on the train who had a phone, who Michael knew well would hand it to him, so they somehow made him use up much of the phones charge to limit the time Michael would have to use the phone.
I also like how you learn a little bit about each character across this train journey, so you sort of get the idea of how the main character got to know everyone aboard the train, such as by the clothes they are wearing, or the way they behave/the things they do when they're on the train. We learn that one character on the train is in a relationship where her boyfriend is trying to make her do things that she doesn’t want to do, such as when he keeps trying to kiss her but she doesn’t want to, or when it’s shown that he’s got fake ID’s in her bag that belong to him. We also learn across the journey that there is a doctor on the train who is upset or tired because of how she over-reacts when one of those working on the train asks to check her bag and she starts arguing and getting angry with him, and the fact that she keeps getting notifications on her phone, like someone who cares about her won't leave her alone. I think all of this was done very cleverly because I think it was done to not only keep the audience interested during this train ride, but to also help us as an audience member figure out, what “kind of person they are” through how they behave throughout the train ride.
This is why having Michael make a drastic choice in this story, to decide who he is, would have been more dramatic in my opinion because I think it would have strengthened our belief in this character as one that would do anything to save his family, or care for them. So, I think the ending to this film could have been perfect if, somehow, he makes a mistake and physically shoots the wrong person, but in the end, he realises what he’s doing and stops, risking his family's life but realising this is not what they would want. It would take out one of the characters we had grown to know and help us appreciate this character as a person that would kill if they were pushed over the edge, but still have the sense of a cop that knows what he’s done was wrong. This would have made a better ending to a tense thriller/drama such as this, in my opinion, rather than the “happily ever after” ending that we got.
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Images - IMDb