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Film / The Commuter

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"A passenger on this train doesn't belong. They're carrying a bag, but you don't know what it looks like. All you have to do is find them before they get off."
Michael MacCauley

The Commuter is a 2018 Action Thriller film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. The film stars Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, and Sam Neill.

Michael MacCauley, an Irish-American NYPD detective turned insurance agent who returns home by train, is offered a total of $100,000 by a woman named Joanna if he helps her identify a passenger going by an alias. After taking the first $25,000, he quickly finds out that he's been dragged into a massive conspiracy.

The Commuter contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Jonathan Banks plays a character named Walt.
  • Affably Evil: Murphy is polite despite being part of The Conspiracy, and his role in setting Michael up was not out of malice, but a horribly misguided and morally bankrupt desire to help him.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: Dirty cops are among the conspirators, and Sofia went to the FBI because her cousin's killers are in the NYPD.
  • Bait the Dog: Both Murphy and Oliver seem to be helpful, but they're involved in the plot targeting Sofia/Prynne.
  • Big Bad: Joanna is the main threat, orchestrating the Evil Plan against Prynne on behalf of "very powerful people."
  • Big Bad Friend: After a slip of the tongue, Murphy is outed as Enrique's killer and the conspirator responsible for Sofia's presence on Michael's train. While he did it to help with his money problems, he mistakenly believed he'd "just do what she asked."
  • Bottle Episode: Except for the prologue and the epilogue (which takes place aboard a different train), most of the movie's events happen aboard the Hudson Line train that Michael's on.
  • Chekhov's News: Enrique Mendez—a city planning official—is reported to have committed suicide. Later revelations make it clear that it was Never Suicide.
  • Cool Old Guy: Walt, one of the first passengers we really get to know.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The closing credits are depicted as a complex train station map, which provides the page image for this trope.
  • Dead Star Walking: Walt, played by Jonathan Banks, dies only a half-hour in.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: On a train, but the plot is more covert and the passengers are unaware of what's happening for most of the film.
  • Dirty Cop: There's a faction of corrupt cops who are part of the conspiracy. Murphy is one of them, and Captain Hawthorne mentions he's already been under investigation.
  • Eat the Rich: Michael tells off a former Goldman Sachs employee and gives him the middle finger "on behalf of the American middle class."
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: After Michael's comment, the Goldman Sachs employee apologizes to his mother on the phone for her having heard that.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Murphy believed Michael's financial situation would push him into dancing to Joanna's tune, but it's painfully obvious that he was wrong.
  • Evil Former Friend: Murphy to Michael after The Reveal of his true nature.
  • Evil Plan: The conspirators are out to murder Sofia and steal a hard drive she has which implicates who-knows-how-many corrupt officials.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Joanna's initially polite to Michael, but it quickly goes out the window to be replaced with fake civility once it's clear she's the Big Bad.
  • Good-Times Montage: The film's first five minutes show the daily routines of Michael, his wife Karen, and his son Danny over a matter of months.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We don't see the gory details of Oliver being run over by a passing train after he loses his fight with Michael—while trying to murder him no less.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Joanna and Murphy say their unseen employers are "powerful people," with the former bringing up how they're willing to do what they must to protect themselves.
  • The Heavy: Joanna's the Big Bad, but she's subservient to corrupt people in power.
  • He Knows Too Much: Sofia is being targeted for witnessing Enrique's murder and having a hard drive implicating many people involved with The Conspiracy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sam dies while he's helping Michael uncouple the last car from the rest of the train before it derails thanks to The Conspiracy deciding to Leave No Witnesses.
  • I Am Spartacus: Several passengers claim to be Prynne after Murphy's revealed as Enrique's murderer, with some Mood Whiplash coming when a cowering Jimmy quickly says that he isn't Prynne.
  • I Have This Friend: Michael's search for Prynne eventually leads to him sitting down with Tony and Jackson—using this to provide an outline of the situation and asking what they'd do. It's to test their reactions and see what they'd say.
  • I Have Your Wife:
    • Joanna tries to force Michael into doing her bidding by ordering three of her employees to hold his wife and his son hostage—threatening to have them killed if he refuses to comply.
    • Shortly after his villainous reveal, Murphy mentions "[he's] got a family too," possibly indicating that Joanna was having Murphy's family held hostage as well.
  • Improvised Weapon: An emergency hammer and a guitar are used in a fight, and a luggage bag is used in another one.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Minutes after Sofia (a.k.a. Prynne) describes how Enrique's murderer said "doing the right thing will get you killed, and that there's no such thing as being noble," Murphy says this reassuring stuff...
  • Jerkass: Vince is a smug, elitist jerk who insults Michael for no reason.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Captain Hawthorne initially acts like such a jerk that he's even suggested to be a Dirty Cop, but it turns out he's on the side of good despite his attitude.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: Inverted. Michael deduced that Oliver was right-handed (he extended his right hand to help Michael up after he fought the FBI agent), so he isn't fooled by his left-handed guitar.
  • Leave No Witnesses: After she loses her patience with Michael, Joanna coldly declares that "Now everyone dies" and ends the call. The Conspiracy rigged a bomb in the train's cab to explode (and disable all its brakes) if anyone tried to activate the emergency brakes—dooming the train to derail wherever the next curve is and supposedly ensuring everyone aboard's silenced when they die in the crash.
  • Lovable Coward: Rarely sticking his neck out, Jimmy is a friendly guy who never lies about his lack of bravery and provides some humor to tense scenes.
  • Never My Fault: Invoked; Joanna accuses Michael of being responsible for the deaths on the train because he wouldn't go along with her request, rather than admit that she and her associates are the ones killing people and Michael's only crime is trying to stop them.
  • Never Suicide: Enrique's supposed suicide was actually a murder perpetrated by two cops—with Murphy being the one who did him in.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The FBI agent's shifty attitude leads to Michael believing he's Prynne and Oliver murdering him.
  • No Full Name Given: Exaggerated since many characters' last names are never revealed.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sam.
  • Red Herring:
    • Jackson, one of the passengers, is played by Roland Møller (who often plays villains), so he looks like he is a member of The Conspiracy. He's ultimately a Nice Guy willing to give his life to protect Prynne after it's revealed she is a scared teenage girl.
    • Captain David Hawthorne is described as a possible Dirty Cop and a Jerkass. Once it's clear many of the conspirators are corrupt cops, it becomes possible that he's a villain. Hawthorne turns out to be a Hero Antagonist at worst.
    • Vince seems to be Prynne, but he switched seats with the real Prynne.
    • Gwen is seen being given something by her boyfriend that she's reluctant to take onboard, and generally seems a little nervous afterwards. They're just fake IDs that he wanted brought out to college, as he was too cowardly to take them himself.
  • Red Shirt: The FBI agent guarding Prynne.
  • Retired Badass: Michael used to be a detective with the NYPD, and he uses his old skills throughout the film. The Conspiracy chose him to be their pawn aboard the train for that reason. In the film's epilogue, he comes out of retirement to track Joanna down and help to arrest her once her train arrives in Chicago.
  • The Reveal:
    • Prynne's a 16-year-old girl named Sofia, and she witnessed two cops shoving Enrique Mendez (her cousin) to his death after he refused to give them a hard drive implicating countless corrupt officials. She got away with the drive and was told by FBI Agent Garcia to take the 6:25 PM train to Cold Spring—which Michael rides daily to get home from work. Adding on to that...
    • Det. Lt. Alex Murphy is Enrique's murderer, and he told his higher-ups (with Joanna being among them) to make sure Sofia was on Michael's train.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Walt's pushed in front of a transit bus by one of Joanna's many employees as a warning to Michael while she's calling him.
  • Scary Black Man: Oliver seems like an aversion of this at first since he's sympathetic to Michael's plight... before he's revealed as the killer of the FBI agent guarding Prynne.
  • Sherlock Scan: Michael notices that Oliver has a left-handed guitar when he's a right-handed man.
  • Taking a Third Option: A hypothetical example. After Michael's I Have This Friend speech about whether to take a shady job or not, Jackson says that if he were the guy, he would take the money and try to find Prynne—but warn them to get off at the next stop and pretend he came up empty.
  • Thriller on the Express: The bulk of the movie happens aboard a northbound Hudson Line train.
  • The Unfettered: Joanna doesn't care who has to be hurt or threatened to make sure Prynne dies and the evidence that originally belonged to Enrique doesn't get out. She also describes her "very powerful" employers as willing "to do anything to protect themselves."
  • Vertigo Effect: When Michael opens an envelope to find his wife's wedding ring, this effect kicks in as he realizes his family's now in danger.
  • We Are Everywhere:
    • After masterminding Walt's murder as a show of force, Joanna warns Michael that "[she] can get to anyone anywhere."
    • Murphy mentions The Conspiracy having "eyes everywhere," including within the FBI.
  • Wham Line: Murphy starts to be revealed as an Affably Evil Dirty Cop when he says "Mike, I get it—you wanna do the noble thing here, but I got news for you! There ain't no such thing as noble." See I Never Said It Was Poison for the context.