MovieMonday: The Commuter

This film is a nice piece of work, the sort of thing Liam Neeson has been doing in recent years.  Its genre is action/thriller and, by its own lights, it hangs together well. I found it perfectly satisfying.

The setup is this:  Michael MacCauley, an NYPD detective turned life insurance salesman, is “let go” after 10 years on the job.  On the Metro-North train from Grand Central Terminal back to his Tarrytown home he is given an assignment/opportunity by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga.) She offers him a payoff of $100,000 cash if he does as she asks.  Since his family’s financial situation is perilous, he begins to investigate.

As events progress, Michael learns that his movements are being observed and that the offered “opportunity” is not optional.  If he does not do he has been told, his family, other passengers and railroad workers face unpleasant consequences.  Unnerved but professional, Michael investigates the situation in a credible way.  The level of threat increases in steady increments as Michael races against a tight deadline: the moment when the train makes its stop at the Cold Springs station.

If you have seen even a single movie of this type, you will not be surprised to learn that a broad network of corruption and evil underlies the danger Michael faces.  It’s a movie, after all, not realistic but inhabiting a realistic-looking world.

There are many scary moments.  Michael discovers the body of a dead FBI agent and watches a fellow passenger sacrificed to make a point.  He tangles with various other passengers while trying to identify the person of interest to the mysterious woman.

There is violence, including some explosions toward the end, but less gunplay than we have grown accustomed to seeing in modern film and no sci-fi plot devices.  For these exclusions alone, I appreciated it.


In addition to having the usual implausible plot, the film reveals that its screenwriters don’t know much about real life.  A few points:

–Insurance salesmen don’t have to travel into New York City to sell term life policies to family people.  The family people, like Michael MacCauley, live mostly in suburbs.

–Sixty-year-old guys who commute on trains don’t read “Wuthering Heights,” and they don’t talk with other old guys about which of the Bronte sisters — Emily or Charlotte — wrote the book.

–The movie tells us that Michael MacCauley lost his career NYPD gig because of cutbacks after the 2008 crash (contra the usual public employment policy of last-in, first-out.)   “But the bankers of Wall Street got rich,” he commiserates resentfully with an old friend.  There is the obligatory scene in which he gives the finger to an arrogant Goldman Sachs guy in a three-piece suit.  (And no, I don’t know anybody who works at Goldman.)
This theme has passed its sell-by date.  With all due respect to Bernie Sanders, Wall Street is not the nexus of evil that it was in days past.  Financial employment dropped by 500,000 jobs between 2008 and 2013 and has continued to drop since then.  Regulation has increased substantially, and stupid banks — Wells, Citi, UBS, etc. — are being held to account.  We may wish that Angelo Mozilo had gone to prison, but the fact that he did not is likely because federal insiders protected him.
Some better candidates for modern-day greedy bad guys are tech billionaires under the age of 40 — the ones who collect and sell our data, who maintain sloppy protection systems that expose us to hacks, who wipe out established industries, who innovate new ways to evade regulation and who seem to include a large number of horndogs.
I’m just trying to be helpful here.

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