The Commuter has an interesting premise, a ridiculous execution, some horrible decisions by its hero, yet still manages to entertain thanks to the gravitas of its star, Liam Neeson, and some slick direction from Jaume Collet-Serra. While this 4K HDR10 presentation was sourced from a 4K DI, the drab set design and dark sequences don't add a lot of 4K pop, although black levels are excellent. The Atmos track, however, is fun and active. While this may not be something you'll want to watch multiple times, this 4K Blu-ray is certainly Worth a Look.
Liam Neeson has a certain set of train transfers in The Commuter, another one of those "ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances" action movies that puts our hero in a confined space. Sometimes it's a plane high above, sometimes it's a skyscraper in the city, this time it's New York City's commuter rail. Unfortunately, it doesn't take this movie long to go off the tracks from Hitchcockian thriller to implausible silliness, but either way it's not that unpleasant of a ride – thank largely to Neeson, who's almost always watchable as the lead.
Neeson stars as Michael MacCauley, an insurance salesman who happens to be an ex-cop (that will come into play later) who lives in the suburbs but works in New York City. He has a wife (Elizabeth McGovern in a small role), two sons, and one big mortgage (yet another factor that plays in his decisions). MacCauley – like many of our readers out there, I'm guessing – has a daily grind when it comes to work: get on the train, take it into Grand Central Station, go to work, hop back on the train and head home. Wash, rinse, repeat. But MacCauley is about to have a very bad day – starting with arriving at work and finding out he's been axed.
Not yet wanting to reveal to his wife that he's been fired, Michael goes first to a local bar in the city, where he runs into a former NYPD colleague and friend, Alex Murphy (played by Patrick Wilson, and no relation to RoboCop). Also, there is Alex's boss and the head of the police division, Captain Hawthorne (Sam Neill). Hint to the uninitiated: when significant actors appear in what seem to be otherwise insignificant roles, it bears noting.
When Michael finally heads back home on the train, a woman (Vera Farmiga) takes a seat across from him. After some small talk, she asks Michael if he'd be willing to do something if he'd never know or have to worry about the consequences. When he asks her why he would do something like that, she responds that it would be for $100,000 - $25,000 of which is currently hidden in a bathroom on the train and the bulk of which he'd get when the task was complete. Michael soon realizes that this isn't a joke and then learns what needs to be done: There's someone on the train that will be getting off at the Cold Spring stop, with a bag and something very important in it. Michael needs to find that person and put a tracker in their bag. But he also needs to figure out who that person is.
This is the point in the movie – as they say – where the "fun begins". Of course Michael takes the offer and at various points throughout tries to do the morally right thing, only to get a phone call from the mysterious woman (who, by this point, has exited the train) threatening Michael's family (who may or may not have been taken hostage by the people she's working for). Everyone's a suspect on the train, naturally, and The Commuter throws enough red herrings at us to fill up the Hudson.
While the story is never as smart as it thinks it is, I can't say it isn't entertaining...although not as much in a "taut thriller" kind of way, as a "let's see what poor life decision this guy makes next" kind of way. Among events that can be filed under realm of the improbable include Neeson's character hanging on for dear life underneath the train, hanging on for dear life on the side of the train, and surviving a derailment that makes the one you saw in The Fugitive look like a fender-bender.
But it's all good fun...or bad fun, as the case may be. No, this isn't going down as one of Liam's best efforts. In fact, it makes the original Taken look like Oscar material. However, if you're just looking to check your mind at the turnstile and hop aboard the crazy train for the evening, you could do a lot worse than The Commuter.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Commuter has a ticket to ride with this 4K Ultra HD combo pack. The 4K disc and the 50GB Blu-ray come housed inside a black eco-friendly Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for either an UltraViolet or iTunes copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. While there are no front-loaded trailers on the 4K disc, the Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for American Assassin, Rememory, The Hitman's Bodyguard, Winchester, and Our Kind of Traitor. The main menu is identical on both discs, with a drawn image of a train combined with a montage of scenes from the movie diagonally above it. Menu selections are across the bottom of the screen.
While Ultra 4K discs continue to have no region coding, the Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
The Commuter was shot digitally using Arri Alexa Mini cameras and the movie is presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The transfer here was taken from a 4K digital intermediate.
With the above in mind, the setting of the movie (almost exclusively aboard the train – which was largely a set piece filmed in a studio in England) prevents most of the scenes from having the kind of 4K "punch" that other titles provide. The most noticeable thing about the image is the deep black levels and the well-defined facial features. Neeson has never looked older...err, I mean better! However, as many 4K aficionados know, the real appeal is in HDR, which provides deeper, richer colors and contrast to an image. Sadly, the effect of HDR isn't as evident with The Commuter, given the dark, dingy, and grayish-brown color palette it uses.
In terms of any glitches, there were none that jumped out at me. I think the biggest issue here is because of the visual style and colors chosen by the director (and cinematographer Paul Cameron), the 4K presentation isn't leaps and bounds better than that of the Blu-ray. You'll get some deeper blacks, some more defined facial features, and perhaps a tad better detail, but it's not quite the visual "jump" I've seen on many of my other 4K releases.
Lionsgate has provided the same Atmos track (which is 7.1. Dolby TrueHD compatible) on both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray, which – given my video review above – provides potential buyers with yet another debate over whether the 4K upgrade is truly worth the trouble. As such tracks go, this is one of the better ones, with directionality of the train moving (as well as plenty of LFE rumblings) throughout. The track notches things up a bit during several fight/action sequences that take place aboard the train, and then really blows things out of the water (or in this case, off the tracks) with a derailment sequence towards the end of the movie. It all adds up to a quite immersive experience, and while I didn't feel the track was quite good enough for a reference-quality score, it's close enough that most won't be disappointed in the aural presentation. There are no evident glitches in the audio.
In addition to the Atmos track, 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are available in Spanish and French, as well as an English 2.0 Dolby Digital track optimized for "late night listening" and a English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
End of the Line (HD 9:15)– This is standard EPK material about the making of the film, featuring comments from members of the cast and crew, including star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra.
Off the Rails (HD 4:18) – Another, albeit shorter, EPK-style featurette, this time focusing more on how the train was built on the set and how the sequences were shot. Once again, members of the cast and crew provide comments.
The Commuter is one of those movies that I like to call "big, loud, and stupid", but also one that falls firmly in that "so bad, it's good" description. The premise is a good one, but star Liam Neeson could have used a better script and a smarter character. That said, there's no denying that he tries to make the most of every scene. The biggest question with this 4K release is if the A/V quality is all that distinguishable from what's offered on the standard Blu-ray. Even if you don't wind up buying The Commuter, I still think it's Worth a Look.