Liam Neeson is on the phone. He gets a threat, he grunts, he clenches his teeth and then responds with a counter-threat. More popular as – “I don’t know who you are but I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
When Neeson said these now-immortal words in Taken (2008), it kickstarted the actor’s reinvention as an action hero. Much before John Wick turned Keanu Reeves into a pop culture legend, Taken celebrated the formula of a B-movie and managed to make a simplistic-yet-entertaining action film. Soon after, things started to go downhill.
Till then, Neeson was best known for starring in the titular role of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. And yet, people seem to take a strange liking to a greying Neeson beating the bad guys to pulp with his bare hands. And you know what that means right ? Franchise (two more Taken films followed soon after). Various other films like Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night too banked on Neeson’s remarkable ability of hollering at a phone.
Even in his latest outing The Commuter, Neeson’s character Mike (could they have been more imaginative?) follows an arc resembling a flat line. He’s built up as the average, all-American hero who wakes up at the same time every day and goes to work using the same commuter train. He also has a son who asks ‘why do I have a license when I don’t have a car?’ #JustAmericanKids #FirstWorldProblems #EntitledMillennial
In the film’s first 10 minutes, we glide thorough the unremarkable life of an American everyman. Except that the everyman is actually a former cop, who has moved on to selling insurance for the past decade. This opening montage weirdly resembles the cardboard setting of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, where a noble middle-class American goes about his life centered around the mortgage and his son’s college tuition. He is on a first-name basis with the other passengers taking the same train as him and even the bartender seems to be happy to serve him, each time he goes in for a quick beer. Hmm…
Life’s good, until he gets fired from his job. A dejected Mike is on his way back home when he meets a mysterious woman who makes him a tempting offer. He stands to gain a $100,000 for a seemingly easy task. You know what that means.
Dishoom! Dishoom! Kapow!
The Commuter stinks of so many done-to-death tropes, that you find yourself asking whether the makers anticipated a film being made on the disaster that this film is.
It’s the kind of movie where Neeson first instinct is to suspect the African-American teenager in a hoodie, or the white guy with a tattoo around his neck. Of course, they don’t turn out to be ‘the one’ – but you already knew that didn’t you? It’s the kind of preposterous movie, which oscillates between positioning its leading man as the everyday Joe and the hard-boiled action star who uncouples cars of a train and survives explosions. It’s also the kind of film where the camera dwells on a character’s death for exactly a second, before going back to Neeson’s perpetually pained expression. It’s THAT inconsequential and pointless.
Liam Neeson is obviously not a bad actor, as we saw in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. The standard deviation between his best film and his worst is probably rivalled only by Bollywood’s Irrfan – who has worked in both Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox and Anees Bazmee’s Thank You. But Neeson needs to quit monkeying around, and go back to REAL roles. Like when he waltzed into a room full of Gestapo officers and won them over with champagne and Oskar Schindler’s undeniable charisma. Neeson has spent a decade barking threats into a phone, and it’s time he hangs up on the dumb movies already!