Cinema Dispatch: A Total Breakdown in COMMUTER-cation


The Commuter is owned by Lionsgate

Sometimes you see a movie that will just not leave your brain as questions keep running through your head about what it all meant and what it was trying to say.  I guess this is TECHNICALLY one of those movies, but certainly not for the reasons the filmmakers hoped for because I have nothing but contempt for the asinine questions that I’m left with after watching the damn thing which is made even worse because there ARE no answers.  This was just a super sloppy movie PRETENDING it knew what the hell it was doing and it utterly failed to convince me otherwise.  Since keeping things bottled up is not a particularly healthy way to deal with something, I decided to let YOU all know what questions I was pondering while watching this silly film and how the movie fails to address them in any adequate or satisfying way!  Before that though, let’s have a full rundown of the plot so that you all have a better idea of where I’m coming from if you haven’t seen the movie.  Trust me, I’d rather spend my time recounting it here than make ANYONE feel like they’d have to sit through this drivel just to understand what the heck I’m talking about!  FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!!


Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is an ex-cop that’s been working for an insurance company for some time now, but the movie begins with his ass getting shit canned for… whatever reason; something about him being TOO valuable to keep around or whatever.  He spends the rest of the day drinking with his ex-partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) and gets back on the train to go back home which he has done every day since he started working for the insurance company.  While on the train, a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offers him a hundred grand to locate a person on the train and put this weird tracking device on them while only having three details to work with.  They have something valuable in their bag, they’re getting off at Cold Springs, and they are using the codename “Prynne”.  To prove that she’s serious, she tells him twenty-five grand is in the bathroom and then gets off at the next stop.  He finds the money but still doesn’t want to do it, however at the stop AFTER Joanna gets off, someone ELSE comes up, gives him his wife’s ring, and tells him it’s too late to back out now.  Michael STILL doesn’t want to do it, so he tries to secretly pass a note to a friend of his on the train named Walter (Jonathan Banks), but when HE gets off the train, Michael gets a phone call (he’s using someone else’s phone because his is “lost”) from Joanna who tells him he’s been SUPER NAUGHTY which is followed by Michael seeing some dude push Walter into traffic.  EVENTUALLY through a series of convoluted set pieces and revelations, Michael figures out the following.  “Prynne” is an FBI witness to a crime and their handler is on the train, but Michael mistakenly identifies HIM as “Prynne” and so is murdered by someone working for THE BAD GUYSTM.  The Would Be Assassin is some guy with the guitar who SOMEHOW snuck a gun on the train, but Liam Neeson deals with him rather quickly once his identity is revealed.  He discovers who “Prynne” is by narrowing down the clues (she’s reading The Scarlet Letter in case it was on the nose enough), but refuses to kill her on Joanna’s orders, so she just blows up the brakes on the train because apparently there were bombs on the train the whole time.  Everyone who is left on the train which is MAYBE twenty people in the last car survives the crash (except one of the crew men who nobly sacrifices himself) and NOW we have a standoff where the police are surrounding the train car and think Michael has taken everyone hostage.  Sure enough, his cop buddy Alex is the one who comes onboard to negotiate with Michael, but it turns out he was in on this scheme the whole time and tries to kill him along with “Prynne”.  He doesn’t though because Liam Neeson is THAT good, and the day is saved!  Everyone lives, his family is fine, and “Prynne” gets to testify against… whoever it is that Joanna works for.  THE END!!


Uh… huh.  Okay then!


How did THE BAD GUYSTM kill Walter!?


This is part of a much bigger issue of THE BAD GUYSTM having near omnipotent knowledge of everything going on inside the train despite the film later confirming that there is only ONE person onboard working for THE BAD GUYSTM; namely the dude with the guitar who is ALSO an assassin and who I’m assuming had to be observant enough to watch him write the note, and yet inattentive enough to be unable to identify the target he’s after.  Let’s just ignore that for now though and take a moment to consider the more pressing conundrum.  WHO THE HELL pushed Walter into traffic!?  Well obvious it was some dude hired by THE BAD GUYSTM, but how did they manage to not only find someone WILLING TO KILL A MAN IN BROAD DAYLIGHT but have him in the EXACT right position at the EXACT time he needed to be there?  What if Walter didn’t leave the train station?  Instead of crossing the street to talk to the uniformed officers there, what if he went to a payphone or just got one of the security guards at the station?  Would Walter have just gotten stabbed in the back which is only SLIGHTLY less subtle than pushing him into traffic?  Would the killer then have to be murdered too so that he won’t talk when the police pick him up!?  The whole point of having Walter die is to prove the threat of THE BAD GUYSTM and to give the audience an idea of just how much control they have over the situation; yet this scene does the exact OPPOSITE of that because the one thing you DON’T want to do if you’re trying to keep control of a situation is to start LEAVING DEAD BODIES AROUND IN PLAIN SIGHT!!


How did THE BAD GUYSTM know the codename “Prynne” and nothing else!?


As I said, “Prynne” turns out to be an FBI witness who’s reading The Scarlet Letter on the train, and in case you don’t know why that’s deserving of a groan all on its own, the main character of the book is named Hester Prynne.  So you’re telling me that this ALL POWERFUL ORGANIZATION that can somehow see a guy scribble a note on a newspaper and then put a dude in place to murder someone within moments of them getting off the train, could only manage to figure out this person’s codename?  The worst codename in the world on top of that!?  Why would the FBI agent she was with even let her take that book onboard and why would she WANT to when she knows she’s in danger!?  If I was in that situation and they gave me the codename Arnold, I’m PRETTY sure I’d be watching something other than Terminator 2 on my phone!  Now I wouldn’t be AS bothered by the lack of detail THE BAD GUYSTM could get on their target if they clarified that the one who leaked the codename had never met “Prynne” or was only in communication with her handler, but there’s dialogue between Liam Neeson and “Prynne” towards the end that specifically indicate that someone SHE KNEW was the one who leaked to THE BAD GUYSTM; a detail that could have easily been removed, or AT LEAST had been clarified in more detail, that would have made the script just a TINY bit better.


Why did they hire two hit men!?


So you’re telling me that the plan was for Liam Neeson to be coerced into finding out who “Prynne” is, put an ABSURDLY large tracking device on them, and then ANOTHER passenger on the train who is working for THE BAD GUYSTM will then murder them in cold blood… on a train.  For this to work, they had to throw a hundred grand in Liam Neeson’s direction, hire Joanna to get on that train and give him the offer, hire someone ELSE to give him the ring at a later point, and also hire someone to push a dude into traffic on the off chance he gives them a secret message; all before hiring the assassin who’s ACTUALLY going to kill the witness.  Am I getting this right!?  Okay, so that… what?  At least FIVE people on or around this train in some elaborate murder conspiracy, and this is a BETTER plan than just hiring a hitman competent enough to figure out the person reading The Scarlet Letter is the one he needs to kill?  This makes even LESS sense when you consider how much time and energy the assassin was ALSO spending keeping an eye on Liam Neeson; watching him write notes, seeing him grab a dude’s phone, and even getting off and on the train without anyone else noticing.  Watching all this by the way while ALSO discretely reporting back to Joanna so she can give Liam Neeson antagonistic phone calls MOMENTS after he does each of these things.  This is also a guy who manages to murder an FBI agent without ANYONE hearing him and is able to sneak a gun onto a train despite the fact that we SEE cops at the beginning of the movie checking people’s bags before getting onto the train. Well jeez!  This guy sounds like a total badass, right!?  Well not really considering he gets his ass kicked and eventually murdered by Liam Neeson; an event that ALSO goes by without a SINGLE PERSON THE TRAIN NOTICING!  The idea is that THE BAD GUYSTM absolutely NEED Liam Neeson to find “Prynne” for them, but everything the movie does to keep Neeson in the plot contradicts his necessity; whether it’s the uncanny ability to keep an eye on him at all times (he can’t escape yet they can’t find “Prynne”), the fact that they were able to sneak bombs onto a god damn train (why not just blow it up from the start if it’s THAT important to them?), and especially the assassin who really should have been able to handle this all by himself.


Who the heck are THE BAD GUYSTM!?


There’s a reason I’ve been referring to the villains of this movie as THE BAD GUYSTM, and that’s because the movie never bothers to explain who it is that’s messing with Liam Neeson.  Is it the mafia?  The government?  The Illuminati?  Spectre!?  WE NEVER KNOW!!  Even at the end of the movie when they do the cliché of having news broadcasts play over the final shot of the third act (right before the epilogue), it’s still left completely vague there as well!  Evidence of corruption!  This goes all the way to the top!  The revelations being made are astonishing!  And look, the problem isn’t that we don’t get some bullshit evil company name like CIPHER or VIL-CORP, it’s that the movie never bothers to establish anything about them other than their (supposed) overwhelming reach!  There’s no way to truly define the threat that Liam Neeson is up against and the script constantly puts more and more resistance in his path without anything close to a probable explanation which makes it impossible to care about what happens next because… well ANYTHING can happen next!  The fact that there are BOMBS ON THE TRAIN that Joanna can set off at any time goes by without any sort of fanfare and it just becomes another pointless obstacle for Liam Neeson to face.  Heck, if they had another train  on standby that they could send to smash into this one, it wouldn’t be THAT outside the realm of possibility that the film sets up for itself; and this matters because without a believable threat, there’s little to no reason to stay invested in the story.  Think of something like Die Hard which is pretty implausible to begin with, but they take the time to establish who the bad guys are, what they want, and what they are capable of!  We don’t have to know EVERYTHING they have at their disposal, but it has to feel like there’s SOMETHING that exists beyond the confines of the film’s plot which isn’t the case in this film.  THE BAD GUYSTM are whatever the film needs them to be for any given scene, and in doing so they created a villain that means nothing.


And there it is!  I hope this didn’t come across as TOO rambling (it probably did), but I just needed to get that out of my system because this movie REALLY annoyed me with just how little they cared to explain even the most basic of details.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below!


If you liked this list and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

The Commuter [Blu-ray]

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