A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “Paddington 2,” one of the most entertaining movies of the year, the train terror movie “The Commuter” and the family drama “Happy End.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at “Paddington 2, a movie Richard is already calling one of the best of the year, Liam Neeson’s long journey home in “The Commuter” and the ironically titled family drama “Happy Ending.”
Last year Liam Neeson announced his retirement from action films. “Guys I’m sixty-f******-five.’ Audiences are eventually going to go: ‘Come on!'” Then, just months later, he had a change of heart. ““It’s not true, look at me! You’re talking in the past tense. I’m going to be doing action movies until they bury me in the ground. I’m unretired.”
At an age when most action stars are staying home soaking in vats of Voltaren Neeson continues his tough guy ways in this weekend’s action thriller The Commuter. He plays an everyman caught up in a race-against-the-clock criminal conspiracy on his train trip home from work. Expect a mix of blue-collar action and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
It’s a perfect companion to the movies Neeson has made since his actionman breakout role. It all began with Taken in 2008. He played Brian Mills a former “preventer” for the US government who contained volatile situations before they got out of control. Now retired, when his seventeen-year-old daughter is kidnapped by a child slavery ring he has only 96 hours to use his “particular set of skills” to get her back.
He admits to being, “a tiny bit embarrassed by it,” but his burly build and trademarked steely glare made him an action star.
“Believe it or not, I have even had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis calling my agent saying, ‘How do I get these scripts?’” he said on his sixtieth birthday.
Audiences ate up his rough and tumble work. His habit of paying the rent with chest-beaters like the Taken films, Battleship, Unknown and The A-Team led one macho movie fan to post this on Facebook:
“After watching the movie The Grey, I can only come to the (very logical) conclusion that Liam Neeson should be King of the Earth. Who’s better than Liam Neeson? Nobody. That’s who. Nobody.”
But there was a time when a kinder, gentler Neeson graced the screen.
His first film, 1977s Pilgrim’s Progress, was so low budget he played several characters. He’s credited as the Evangelist, a main character in John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, but can also be seen subbing in as the crucified Jesus Christ.
It was another supporting role in a movie called Shining Through that led to his breakthrough. In it he plays a Nazi party official opposite Michael Douglas. The performance so impressed Steven Spielberg he cast Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, which turned him into an Oscar-nominated star.
He parlayed that fame into starring roles in period pieces like Rob Roy, Michael Collins (at the age of 43 Neeson was 12 years older than the real-life Michael Collins when he died) and Les Misérables. Then comedies Breakfast on Pluto and High Spirits showcased his more amiable side.
High on the list of his mild-mannered roles are two films with Laura Linney. He’s worked with her so often on stage and in the movies they joke they feel like “an old married couple.” They’re part of the ensemble cast of Love Actually and play husband and wife in Kinsey, about America’s leading sexologist Alfred Kinsey.
Neeson, it seems, can portray almost anything on screen but claims he doesn’t give acting much thought. “I don’t analyse it too much. It’s like a dog smelling where it’s going to do its toilet in the morning.”
In the last decade when Liam Neeson hasn’t been making “Taken” movies chances are good he’s been working with director Jaume Collet-Serra. In the past they’ve teamed for action b-movies “Run All Night,” “Unknown” and “Non-Stop.” This weekend they return to theatres with “The Commuter,” a terror-in-the-tube tale that is a mix of blue-collar action and Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.”
Neeson plays retired NYPD detective turned recently downsized insurance agent Michael MacCauley. “Karen and me,” he says, “we live hand to mouth. We’ve got nothing to fall back on.” With debts mounting, a second mortgage and a son heading off to an expensive school in the fall, MacCauley is presented with an unusual proposition on his commuter train ride home from Manhattan to upstate New York. Mysterious stranger Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offers him $100,000 to do a simple job—find the new passenger on the train from the sea of faces he’s travelled with for the last decade and place a GPS on them. No strings attached. He doesn’t know the person nor will he ever know what happened to the person. “What kind of person are you?” she asks. If he says yes, his financial worries are over. Say no, however, and he risks the safety of everyone on the train and his family.
A better question would be, “What kind of movie is this?“ It’s not exactly fair to call it a thriller because there is very little in the way of actual thrills. After an effective opening montage that shows the drudgery of the 9 to 5 commuter’s life the film settles into very predictable beats as Neeson paces from car to car, desperation growing at every station stop. There’s a twist but as twists go it’s more of a straight line than a real bend in the plot.
This movie should have been called “Stereotypes on a Train.” Who could be the target? Is it the obnoxious businessman? The grizzled commuter? The teen doing an illegal errand for her boyfriend? I didn’t care and you probably won’t either. Things happen, bullets are fired and fists flung but the overly elaborate set-up—why didn’t the evil mastermind, who has absolute control over the situation, plant the GPS herself?—and clichéd dialogue doesn’t leave much room for interesting action.
Neeson certainly knows how to play the everyman with a special set of skills but he’s done it before and better in other movies. Formulaic in the extreme, “The Commuter” is as interesting as taking the same route home day after days for ten years.