Happy SHOCKtober 2019!
From the first five minutes, this movie is too energetic and stylized to be a standard-ass survival/horror. Even the character setup scenes, video phone calls with her family, are visualized in a way I’ve never quite seen before. After that you’ve got your surfer, stranded on a tiny island trapped by an angry killer shark, and we remember Open Water but we’ve established that she’s organized and resourceful so this could go either way. Some dodgy CG when she escapes to a buoy and the enraged shark chomps the metal railings, otherwise a colorful, terrific-looking movie. The winning move, crowning this the queen of all shark-attack films, is introducing an injured seagull as Blake Lively’s only companion, naming it Steven Seagull, then feeding it crabs and letting it live to the end. Guess I’ll have to watch the rest of Collet-Serra’s movies now, to thank him for this seagull generosity (not including any superhero spinoffs and/or theme-park-ride adaptations he may have in the works).
I only know Lively from Age of Adaline. The writer followed up with a Coachella satanism flick and a couple TV movies, and is headed back out to sea this year with Gary Oldman. DP Flavio Labiano has also worked with Alex de la Iglesia and Snoop Dogg, and shot Timecrimes.
There’s a whole subgenre of action thrillers in which Liam Neeson’s family members get taken, with different spinoffs and variations (like Keanu Reeves’ dog getting taken), all of which I’ve been skipping. I probably would’ve skipped this too, but I was fifteen minutes late for The Square, and I’m saving The Post for Katy, and the vulgar auteurists who prompted my fruitful journey through the Resident Evil movies last summer are saying The Commuter is pure cinema, so fine. And they’re wrong, obviously, though their articles are a blast to read – it’s just a pretty good suspenseful movie where Liam kicks some ass and we forgive the ludicrous situation because we’re having a good time.
Liam is a good family man, ex-cop with a kid entering college and major money problems, especially today when he lost his wallet and his insurance job, so when he’s offered $100k to finger a witness on his daily train, he goes along at first, then discovers the people he’s working with are murderers covering for corrupt cops including his ex-partner Patrick Wilson. Various groups claim to be holding Liam’s wife Lady Grantham, but this turns out maybe not to be true – either way, Liam runs up and down the train, making enemies and alliances, eventually gathering everyone in one car and yelling at them while carrying a gun until things get sorted. This is all what I imagine the recent remake of Murder on the Orient Express was like, but with funnier mustaches. The opening montage detailing Liam’s daily family routine is excellent, and a massive train derailment scene was exciting if you get past the conductor’s little Titanic-like self-sacrifice dialogue. The super-happy post-hostage-situation wrap scene was a bit of a stretch. People are dead, a train is destroyed and Liam is supposedly holding hostages. The cop sent in to negotiate is killed. Then a couple minutes after a thousand police storm the train car and grab everybody, Liam is just allowed to go free because the other passengers say he’s a hero. Call me cynical, but I’d expect him to be taken away, beaten half to death and held as a terrorist for at least a few months.
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) is Liam’s contact, Sam Neill a cop boss, and Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth herself) a passenger. The crossover casting between this movie and Atomic Blonde (more deserving of the “pure cinema” label) is tough-looking fellow commuter Roland Møller. This is Collet-Serra’s fourth film where Liam Neeson is holding a gun on the poster, and I’m glad it’s working out for both of them – he also made The Shallows, which I’ve been meaning to watch some SHOCKtober.