In this action-packed thriller, Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), an insurance salesman, whose daily commute home quickly becomes anything but routine. After being confronted by Joana (Vera Farmiga), a mysterious stranger, Michael is blackmailed into finding the identity of a passenger on his train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, Michael is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death stakes for himself and his fellow passengers.
The commuter trains into New York travel from the suburban areas into the inner city, terminating in the Financial District. Along the way, they pick up all kinds of people from every strata of society and, because there’s no first class, the passengers all mix in together. The story centers on Michael MacCauley, a former cop and a now mid-level manager at a faceless insurance company, who lives with his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) outside of New York City. Like so many hard-working family men, he's facing a financial breaking point, trying to make ends meet on a paycheck that is stretched to the rafters and a son who's about to go to college. Michael has been taking the same train for 10 years, five days a week, and then one day he's fired. He doesn't know how to tell his wife, and he's double-mortgaged on his house. At the end of his last day in the office, Michael gets on the train ready to face his family and admit that he has been fired and that the family faces bankruptcy. After having a drink in the local bar with an ex-cop friend of his, he takes the commuter train back to face the music.
Into the seat opposite him slides a woman who's not one of the regular commuters Michael knows. She introduces herself and makes him a strange offer. Would you do one tiny, little thing for $100,000? Something of hers has been stolen on the train and she needs help finding it. If he agrees to help, he’ll be generously compensated. Joana literally shaking up his otherwise mundane existence. We all come to a fork in the road at times where we're quizzed on morality versus need, and she's that quiz master. Of the hundreds of people on the train, most are just normal people who are innocent bystanders. But Michael is forced to trust a handful of passengers who offer their help. One is Walt (Jonathan Banks), a commuter pal. Another is Tony (Andy Nyman), a regular New York guy who s always on the train, who lends Michael his phone. Others who raise suspicion include college girl Gwen (Florence Pugh), Dylan (Killian Scott), a young guy with a tattoo who Michael vaguely recognizes, Vince (Shazad Latif), a Wall Street type, Jackson (Roland Møller), a burly construction worker, Oliver (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), a tired-looking guy with a guitar case, Eva (Clara Lago), a panicked nurse and Sam (Colin McFarlane), the train’s conductor.
Following the worldwide success of "Unknown", "Non-Stop", and "Run All Night", Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra reunite for a fourth time with the explosive thriller "The Commuter", about one man‘s frantic quest to uncover the truth about a train passenger before it's too late. The screenplay proves irresistible, not just for the bravura of the action and the thrill of the suspense, but for the moral conundrum the protagonist faces and it's consequences for him, the passengers on a New York City commuter train, and his family. On his commute home, the passenger sitting opposite him puts a proposition before him, find a passenger on-board the train who doesn’t belong, in return for a handsome financial reward. As an ex-cop with a strong moral sense of right and wrong, this is not an offer Michael takes lightly. Apprehensive to return home after just having lost his job, Michael eventually agrees to find the suspect amongst the sea of passengers, using his wit and skill to uncover their identity. But he soon realizes that he's at the center of a deadly conspiracy that only he can stop.
If someone asked you to do something that seems insignificant, but you’re not sure of the outcome, in exchange for a considerable financial reward, would you do it? That’s the philosophical choice that our central character, a man of 60 who’s just been fired, has no savings, and mortgage he cannot afford, is faced with. Is he thinking just about himself or is he going to take into consideration the possible moral consequences of what he’s asked to do? It's really important to have Michael as someone who belongs to both worlds, he works in the financial district, but he's a real man who’s probably from a blue collar background and he has fought his whole life to give his family the best possible life. On the train ride home, he’s with a bunch of strangers who are also going through their own personal dramas, large or small. They all start off as strangers, but by the end, there’s a real sense of community between them, and it's very important to end it that way.
The story almost plays in real time. The main character realizes what he’s set in motion; and sets out to identify the person that holds the key to the conspiracy. The tension cranks up at every stop as new passengers get on, and another clue is left for him. The danger gradually gets greater and greater and the film becomes this really fast-paced psychological thriller along the lines of a Hitchcock‘s "Strangers On A Train" or "North By Northwest". The audience is with him every step of the way, so we learn that his family is in danger only when he does. The film keeps the camera on the train, but imply that his family was in danger without showing it.
"The Commuter" disguises a morality tale as a genre film. Michael strikes a Faustian pact with this mysterious woman and, once he’s agreed, the film plays out his deep regret. Joanna is the catalyst, a temptress who entices him, coaches him, and pulls his strings throughout. The film notes of mystery around some of Michael’s co-commuters, who may or may not be players in the conspiracy engulfing him. So when you meet a new character, you’re not sure why they’re on the train or what’s in their bag or why they’re acting the way they do. They’re rounded characters, so you care about what they’re thinking or what they’re up to. It's very important to keep our interest in them going throughout the movie so the payoff at the end is more satisfying.
It's a spiritual sequel to "Non-Stop". With a mystery evolving around your central character, it has more impact if your protagonist is a normal guy. How much is he willing to do for money without knowing the consequences of what he's going to do? When extraordinary events happen to regular people, it's important that the first choices that these characters make are choices that we, as an audience, agree with, and that the action escalates plausibly from those choices.