By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic

Las Vegas Informer

Too implausible, too convoluted to be a serious thriller but Neeson is all in and director Collet-Serra has obvious talent. But who can dope out the plot?

When I lived in Westchester County and didn’t want to fight traffic and then squander my monthly voodoo points on finding a parking place on the street, I’d take the Metro-North train into and then out of New York City’s Grand Central Station.

Poor 60 year old Michael MacCauley (Neeson). He’s in the same old-same old routine. Gets up, gets dressed for work, hears from his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) about the bills and his son about college tuition and then goes on the Metro-North into Grand Central Station. And if that is enough misery for the first 5 minutes of THE COMMUTER, MacCauley must sell life insurance to people who don’t need it.

Sure he’s been doing this same routine for 10 years and his numbers are good but they have a second mortgage on the their house and he just got fired. MacCauley used to be a policeman but Karen made him leave the job. If only he had waited until he made 22 years on the force like his former partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) is doing.

New York City police officers have a starting salary of roughly $41,000 per year. After 5 ½ years the salary increases to $85,292.  Including holiday pay, longevity pay, uniform allowance, night differential and overtime, police officers may potentially earn over $100,000 per year. Optional retirement at one half salary after 22 years of service and, upon retirement, an annual $12,000 from the Variable Supplement Fund.

MacCauley knows every daily commuter. He even has a few buddies such as Walt (Jonathan Banks). So when Joanna (Vera Farmiga) sits across from him – warning sign – she doesn’t carry a handbag – and starts asking him questions like, ‘If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it?’ MacCauley points to his ring.

There are a series of thought experiment problems in moral psychology which originated with “The Trolley Dilemma”. It takes place on a train. (See Below)

Since we now have been bombarded with MacCauley’s dire financial situation, when Joanna offers him $25,000 in cash – hidden in one of the train’s bathrooms – he has to take it.

Of course there is a catch and its so convoluted and far-fetched that just go with the flow and don’t bother trying to make sense of Joanna’s all-powerful omni-presence. Joanna must be in a helicopter overhead watching inside the train and hearing everything going on. When Joanna calls him and tells him to look out the train’s window, MacCauley figures out he is really up against a secret shadow government probably run by the Jesuits, and he better make Joanna happy.

Since MacCauley was a smart detective, all he has to do is find out who is “Prem” on the train and then kill that person. Somehow, there will be a big bag of cash waiting for him at the end of the line.

If MacCauley doesn’t find “Prem”, his wife and son are going to be killed. So MacCauley has to go around interviewing everyone on the train. Instead of this being a ticking time plot, it takes one hour, 20 minutes to go from Grand Central to Cold Springs.  MacCauley takes his time.

The writers, Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle, have a neat premise but it is so improbable that you’ll exhaust yourself trying to figure out just what key fact slipped by you.

With the resources Joanna has at her disposal, you are shocked she needed to have MacCauley do the legwork for her.

Neeson is all in though in a future movie his character should be released from his ‘Daddy save me’ moral straightjacket and say, “This time, I’m looking out for myself.”

Alfred Hitchcock found the erotic charge in train travel but in the hands of director Collet-Serra its just a means to take people to jobs they hate and back to homes eating up over four hours of their day. What if MacCauley took the money, jumped off the train and ditched the phone on the train tracks. What could Joanna do then?

When you can think of something else the main character should do, there is something wrong with the plot.

Knowing New York commuters like I do – from first-hand experience – MacCauley’s fellow passengers were unrealistic seat warmers. New Yorkers see everything, hear everything and get out of the way once threat is in the air.

Hell, I can’t wait on line for more than 2 minutes and I start speaking up. Woe to Joanna if I was headed home on that train.

The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, knows how to stage fights in close quarters and the train derailment is exciting. So THE COMMUTER is for Neeson’s loyal fans and lazy fun. If only MacCauley’s loved ones were locked in the train conductor’s

tiny cabin with the dead conductor and the engineer thrown off the train and the train is on the wrong track and headed for a collision with another train. Now, you’ve got a story.

The Trolley Dilemma:

A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society:

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at

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