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The Commuter •••

The Authors

Reel Heroes & Villains
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
Reel Heroes Volume 1

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Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi
Action/Crime/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 12, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, looks like Liam Neeson took the last train to Clarksville.


I was very “taken” with his latest action film. Let’s recap:


We meet Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), a former cop and insurance agent in New York City. One day, out of the blue, he gets fired. Rather than tell his wife, he walks directly to the local pub where he drowns his sorrows with his former police partner Alex (Patrick Wilson). MacCauley catches the train home and has an encounter with a woman name Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who challenges him to play a game. To earn $100,000, all he has to do is find someone on the train “who doesn’t belong” and place a homing device on this person’s travel bag.


MacCauley at first doesn’t believe the woman’s proposal. But then he finds the first $25,000 in the restroom. He knows he’s being watched, so he passes a note to a friend. When the friend gets off the train McCauley’s phone rings and Joanna tells him not to try that again – just as McCauley witnesses his friend thrown in front of a bus. Joanna warns him that his family is next if he doesn’t complete his mission. Now, MacCauley has to find the “missing person” and save his family before the train comes to its last stop.


Greg, The Commuter is a nice, taut thriller with plenty of intrigue and action. One thing I learned from watching this film is that for a 65 year-old man, Liam Neeson can apparently take a lot of punches and can land a few himself. I wonder how much longer his shelf-life as an action hero is going to last, as I’m beginning to worry about an elderly man physically manipulating train cars at high speed. This movie is far-fetched to be sure, and I’m placing it in the category of films that are enjoyable as long as you don’t think too much about how ridiculous they are.

As a scholar of heroism, I must say that I was impressed at the film’s end, when train passengers stepped up and said, “I’m Prynne”, thereby placing themselves in great peril in order to spare the life of an innocent woman. Supreme acts of selflessness and self-sacrifice are the inspiring ingredients of classic heroism, and I wanted to applaud. However, in this same scene, I had to work hard to turn my brain off as hundreds of wet newspaper pages somehow glued themselves to perfection on the windows of the train. It was all too convenient and groan-worthy, yet I still enjoyed the film’s climactic displays of heroism.


I had to laugh at that same moment, Scott. Just before Alex turns to the commuters I nudged my date in the ribs and whispered “I’m Spartacus I’m Spartacus” It was a moment that was telescoped way in advance and it tickled me pink to see it play out.

I am in full agreement with you on this one. This film stretches the suspense of disbelief to its limits. If you give in to the premise and just – excuse the pun – go along for the ride, you’ll have a good time.


This film taps into the classic archetype of the innocent man who, through no fault of his own, is targeted unfairly by unsavory people. We can all identify with MacCauley, as he represents the “everyman” who is simply doing his best to navigate his way through an unfair world that has fired him from his job and is now threatening his family. MacCauley tries to do the right thing yet discovers that even the police are conspiring against him.

We also see that MacCauley performs one honorable act after another, and that he is rewarded at the end of the film by returning to the police force. As a result of his heroism, he is now in a position to bestow further gifts to society, which is a wonderful element of the classic hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell. Overall it’s a nice hero’s journey containing all the ingredients of departure, initiation, and return.


We also see the family archetype played out here. MacCauley’s wife and son are put on display and used as leverage to push him into dark actions he would not otherwise perform. To add to the leverage is MacCauley as the “old guy put out to pasture.” He pines at one point “I’m 60 years old with a mortgage and college tuition to pay – who is going to hire me?” There’s the femme fatale in Joanna. And ultimately there is the the “damsel in distress” when MacCauley realizes that the object of his detection is a young girl, Prynne.


The Commuter isn’t a great movie but it does provide good solid, if not superficial, entertainment. Our hero is thrown into a supremely challenging situation and must dig deep to develop the resourcefulness needed for survival. There are a few preposterous moments that remind us that we’re watching a silly action movie, but Liam Neeson’s performance is strong enough that I could, for the most part, overlook these absurd departures from reality. The feel-good ending of the story also really carried the day. I give The Commuter 3 Reels out of 5.

Our hero’s journey here is rock solid, with MacCauley first undergoing a departure from his safe, familiar world, followed by his encounter with villains, obstacles, helpers, and life-altering experiences. Our hero acquires new insights about himself, his family, his former police colleagues, and his place in the world. He is forever transformed and bestows gifts to the world as a result of his harrowing journey. I give him a rating of 4 Hero points out of 5.

The archetypes in this story are numerous and varied. Greg, you and I each saw archetypes describing MacCauley, his role in the universe he inhabits, his nemesis Joanna, and the innocent woman around whom the plot revolves. These archetypes are portrayed effectively but none of them jumped out at me as exceptional. I’ll award them 3 archetype “arcs” out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


The Commuter is another in a long list of Liam Neeson films where an everyman saves one or more people with a “certain set of skills.” It’s enjoyable to watch, but it isn’t really great cinema. I’m beginning to think Liam Neeson is his own archetype. If you’re a fan of his type of movie, you’ll enjoy The Commuter. But otherwise you might find it is pretty unbelievable. I give this film 3 out of 5 Reels.

Neeson’s MacCauley is a decent hero. He’s moral and strong. But there’s nothing particularly interesting about him. I give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes are not that strong. The VILLAIN is hidden most of the time and is diluted because we think it’s Joanna when it’s actually his best friend. Finally, MacCauley arrests Joanna who warns him that the danger goes much deeper – alluding to a hidden villain. The FAMILY archetype is also hidden until the very end. We never really see the DAMSEL until the end of the film. There’s a lot hidden here. I give these archetypes just 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

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