Movie review: The Commuter

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the first actual 2018 movie – The Commuter.

IMDb summary: A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.

Lately, we have been getting quite a few train based movies, like The Girl on The Train and Murder on the Orient Express. While those two films were adaptations of beloved books, The Commuter is an original action film that doesn’t look like it exists purely to start another franchise. Still, it’s a Liam Neeson actioner that is coming out in January, so lower your expectations.

Writing

The Commuter was written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle and for the first half of the movie, I thought that this trio was on to something. To begin with, the premise for the train-based movie was inherently intriguing. There is something fascinating about the limited space, the constant movement while being stuck in one place, and the community of people that the daily commuters make up. Also, the script did a good job of setting up the main character – the opening sequence set up his daily routine highly effectively, while the ex-cop plotline worked to explain and justify his abilities, which were displayed throughout the film. The kickstart to the character’s quest/puzzle was kinda riddled with lucky coincidences but it still worked. The film even hinted that it was going to say something profound about human behavior. And then everything went sideways.

The more the film tried to explain its plot, the more convoluted it became. The narrative turned out to be a much ‘larger’ but I really wish that the script would have stuck to the train’s space and tried to make a self-contained story within it. The intensity and the thriller-like vibes were soon lost and replaced by a straight up action film tone. The over-the-top explosions scene was unnecessary, story-wise. The fact that the movie continued after it was also confusing. Lastly, the ending was very much ‘so neat, it only turns out this way in movies’ type of an ending. Oh, and the human behavior message – I had no idea what it was.

Directing

The Commuter was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. He was responsible for 2016’s summer’s surprise hit The Shallows and has also worked with Liam Neeson before on some actioners. I thought that he did a really good job with the first part of the film (that part that had good writing). The opening sequence was an effective visual set up and the pacing and intensity were really good for the first 45 minutes. Then the movie started to drag a bit and didn’t really know which direction it was going. The CGI explosion was too long, messy, and cheaply looking (though, honestly, I’ve seen more expensive films that looked worse, *cough, cough*, Justice League). The majority of the action as well as the dialogue scenes were filmed in close-ups, which made sense for the limited space, but also made the movie feel a tiny bit claustrophobic. Lastly, the conclusion of the picture went on for too long. It should have wrapped up sooner.

Acting

The Commuter, for better or for worse, was a Liam Neeson show and he was good in it. This is the seasoned action star’s signature role, so he could probably do it in his sleep. However, he always looks like he is actually trying hard and is not just winging it.

 

On the supporting front, a whole bunch of moderately known actors appeared. Vera Farmiga (The Judge) played the mysterious and promising ‘villain’, but her story went nowhere. Patrick Wilson had the ‘bait and switch’ role and was fine in it. Jonathan Banks (Mudbound, Better Call Saul) and Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) appeared in roles that didn’t deserve them, while Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern and Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman (Breathe) played Liam Neeson’s character’s family.

In short, The Commuter was an okay film, with a promising beginning and an underwhelming ending. Not a bad one for January, though.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Commuter trailer

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Movie review: Mudbound

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before I start reviewing the major awards contenders, let’s look at one that is on the fringe of the awards voters radar. It’s the Netflix awards offering – Mudbound.

IMDb summary: Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

Writing

Mudbound was written by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. I thought that the film’s writing was solid and interesting, though, for the first part of the movie, I wasn’t sure what story it was telling: whether one about a black family’s experience during the WW2 or one about soldiers in and after the war. Only in the second half of the film did the two plotlines converge and made one whole narrative, while the first half seemed a bit confused and all over the place. The domestic set-up, one about a white family moving in next to a black one and having the stereotypical overtly or secretly racist relationship, was average and slow. The foreign set-up – the flashes to the soldiers’ lives during the war – was much more interesting than the domestic front and I wanted to see more of those scenes. It was especially interesting to witness a black man’s encounters with the Europeans. I haven’t seen that aspect explored much on film before. When the two plotlines did meet, Mudbound explored the interplay between race, class, and PTSD. The gender issues, as well as the comparison between black and white families’ distinct problems, were also included.

From the technical point of view, the movie started at the end and then flashed back to the begining of the story. A lot of elements of the plot were given through extensive narration: some of the narration was chilling, and, thus, effective, while other parts seemed annnoying and not essential. As per usual with the film on race, it elicited feelings of anger and disgust. This film, more than any other, portaryed the most radical side of racism in the 20th century the US very overtly, therefore, the feelings it evoked were extremely strong too. And yet, Mudbound ended on a hopeful note and had a message of love not hate. The mixed race friendship as well as the concluding origin of a mixed race family were two strands of hope that were achieved through a lot of pain, hurt, and suffering in the course of the movie.

Directing 

Dee Rees directed Mudbound and did a good job. As I have already mentioned, I wasn’t fully on board with the setup and thought that parts of it were very slow. However, Rees did a brilliant job with crafting striking visuals as well as with weaving the two plot strands neatly together in the second part of the picture. The song, which played during the credits – “Mighty River” by Mary J. Blige, was a lovely touch too.

Acting

Mudbound’s cast was quite stellar. Carey Mulligan (Suffragette, Far From The Madding Crowd), Jason Clarke (Dawn, Everest, and Terminator Genesys – that last film kinda ruined all subsequent performances of Clarke’s for me), and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad and its spin-off) were all great in the film, though the stand-outs were definitely Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Detroit) and Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken) – their scenes together were fascinating. The actress who is, deservedly, getting the majority of the awards’ recognition for this movie was Mary J. Blige – she is a singer too and was actually the one to perform the end credits song for this film. Her acting performance was amazing too: quiet but very powerful.

In short, Mudbound is a well acted-drama about an old-school subject that is still, sadly, super topical.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Mudbound trailer

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