Darke Reviews | The Commuter (2018)


First review of 2018! Happy New Year folks and welcome back to AmusedintheDark.  Don’t worry we still keep things spoiler free around here. I know towards the end of the year I picked up a few new followers (still haven’t broken 200 on Facebook yet) and a few regular readers. Some of you have been with me since the beginning – to which you have my thanks for every Like, Share, Retweet, and Reblog. I managed to get a public screening pass for this today, sadly I am not online press – yet, but that is why you are getting this review a little ahead of the Thursday night release.

I’m breaking from my normal format on this one for a bit of discourse, a conversation if you wish to have one over on the Facebook page. It’s relevant to the final review so please bear with me and I promise you there’s still a TL:DR waiting for you at the end.

I mentioned to a few people that I was seeing The Commuter today and a few were like “this looks really good“, and I was confused. From the moment I saw this trailer I was at the most non-plussed by it, so how is it people have such a different reaction. I mean sure everyone has different opinions on things – that’s obvious. But peel the layers back and I realized, I’ve seen too many movies.  It’s the Reviewers Paradox (I should trademark that).

You see there are people who go to see movies and don’t care, which is absolutely fine. Don’t let anyone tell you different. There are people who want to see movies that make them think or feel something; to get that personal reaction of it whether or not it’s horror, comedy, romance, drama, or a philosophical film bridging one or more genres. Also perfectly fine. These are not mutually exclusive either. You can mix and match to your hearts content and I encourage you to do so if that’s what you want from movies!

Then you have reviewers or critics which I kind of consider similar but different enough for distinction. I’ll cover that in another post. We go to a movie for the reasons above, but also to constructively provide our thoughts to others on it’s merits and flaws. To provide a recommendation based on the experience of having watched a given movie and hundreds, if not thousands more. We observe the technical components such as editing, plot, story, camera work as much as the acting, and post production sound and effects. We store all of this and continually learn. If you look at many of my early reviews they are far less technical, but also neither more or less forgiving than I am now. Only now I can articulate better what is good or bad about a film. Which is part of the problem….

Reviewers and Critics – we see A LOT of movies. On average I watch 38 theatrical films a year as new releases and double that via mediums like Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, Vudu, etc. that don’t make the theatrical cut. We observe patterns in releases, such as January and August being dump slots for movies that no one cares about. December being the drop site for Academy Award contenders. March, May, June, November being your tent-pole pictures studios hold their breath hoping to beat the others soundly with.

The phrase “we’ve seen it all before” comes to mind. This is why you will often see score sites, such as RT sometimes be so drastically different than the theatre goer. We honestly do, sometimes, see it differently because we’re comparing it to everything else we’ve seen before. We can see the parallels and repetitions. It isn’t always bad either. Movies can repeat themes, repeat core ideas, hell repeat entire plots and still be good. It just means we notice when they do and have to decide for ourselves

Can this trope/thing/mcguffin be forgiven? Does it add to the movie? Hurt it? Have no impact whatsoever and pass the pop corn please? 

This is the Reviewers Paradox. We are expected to provide constructive opinions on movies, but the movies themselves are by nature so repetitive in their components we can be seen as too harsh.

You will see in many of my reviews if you look back me use phrases like “I was entertained” – even on movies which are kinda bad. You’ll also see a lack of Oscar contenders on my list quite frequently as well. There are amazing films being made that are just plain “Great” that I will never see because the subject doesn’t interest me. Because sometimes I want to keep from getting too jaded from seeing proficient films that I end up judging other movies too harshly, where they aren’t as proficient in whatever arbitrary category you look at but provide some form of entertainment to its audience. I am never likely to watch Dunkirk, or The Post, or even things I am told are amazing like The Phantom Thread.  They didn’t get my interest and I may find myself not being fair to them or becoming less fair to movies that don’t have Oscar Bait written on the projection reels.

I reposted an article the other day talking about how Hollywood blames certain review sites and people like me for why people aren’t going to the movies. While the most common response to this is “Try making better movies” – I can’t help but ponder is there a kernel of truth. Look at what I’ve written so far about the difference between an average movie goer and a reviewer or a critic. I think about how many movies I put in the “Meh” to “Bad” category last year when I was writing my Best and Worst of 2017.

I even considered maybe I should stop reviewing because I am getting too jaded.

Then I saw The Commuter.

I heard people on the exit interviews saying “I was on the edge of my seat”, “It was good.” I thought about my own review for it, my own thoughts and how they lined up. The question stood out even more. We’re just over a thousand words on this review and I haven’t even discussed the movie yet; but I think this topic was worth it. Putting these words to screen from the horror show that is my head can help me articulate why some folks like a thing and others don’t. It can help you as my reader understand why you enjoyed a thing when me, or some other reviewer or critic didn’t.

I promise you, if you read a review of mine and see a movie, and disagree with me – let’s discuss it! Please! I absolutely have not and will never begrudge someone enjoying a film I didn’t or hating one I love. In fact, quite often, I’d love to talk about it with you. Not to change your mind but maybe to change mine. There’s a really good chance you saw something I didn’t, or appreciated something I couldn’t. This always intrigues me. 

TL;DR Part I

Which brings us to The Commuter itself and the question is this a train you should miss?

Director Jaume Collet-Serra returns to the screen with clearly his favourite actor Liam Neeson. Serra has previously directed him in Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run all Night. He was also the director on the fantastic horror film The Shallows. The writers on the film are Ryan Engle (Non-Stop and Rampage – to be seen later this year), Philip deBlasi, and Byron Willinger in their first official scripts; which does invoke my Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three continues its validation. The premise of the movie at its bones is “The Box”. Press a button, getting a life changing amount of money but someone you don’t know dies. Now they’ve added layers to it, such as an isolated location but we’ve seen these layers before in movies that didn’t make it work then, such as well….Non-Stop. You’ve seen similar “do x or y will happen to your family” before and mysteries on a train, on a plane, on a bus. It CAN work, look at Speed, Locke, or even Snakes on a Plane as examples. They all have very similar components but were just done better.

Sometimes they add humor, sometimes they add good action, sometimes they add tension. This movie tried to do the tension and action but failed miserably. Tension works best when you increase it and release it as the movie goes on. But never release it all the way. This failed to release the tension and continued it’s attempts to build it. Attempts is an important word because if you fail to increase tension by slowing the pace down or adding little twists and red herrings, but never giving an out – you end up with the opposite reaction; which is boredom. The Commuter is only 1 hour and 44 minutes when your average blockbuster is 2 hours plus these days and you don’t notice. This felt considerably longer than it’s running time and just when you thought it might be wrapping they keep going. It was like all the worst parts of the Return of the King ending.

This isn’t to say it’s all bad. I did, from a technical perspective, find the opening of the movie a creative way to show the day in and day out of a mans life and the repetition we all go through on our morning routines. It was needed for establishment and it was done well. It’s also at least an ‘original’ film, not based on a book movie or anything so that’s something. Next to nothing else worked for me though. The actors were wasted, the pacing was awful, and nothing came as a surprise.

No surprises mean you fail as a mystery. Even movies where you know the ending can still surprise you or engage you if done well. Look at Murder on the Orient Express. You KNOW the ending, but you sit through and wonder how it’s going to unfold.

With this movie? Not so much.

TL;DR Part II

The Commuter derailed. It fails on basic principles of being an action movie, a thriller, or a mystery. It doesn’t succeed at one when it tries to be all three. I maintain Liam Neeson, and most of the other actors, took this for the paycheck. Neeson himself has become a parody of his own roles to the point where people are going to want to see this to see him be “bad ass” since Taken reinvented him back in 2008 from a dramatic actor to the action star.  I would actually pay to see him take a full on parody role of himself in a feature film.

I really feel for everyone who made this or put money into it. No one goes out to make a bad movie, unless you are The Asylum. You make a movie because you love making movies. I feel bad when the final product is derivative and dull. Being a creator isn’t easy. I hope they find a new project that’s better because while Bryan Mills may have had a special set of skills, this movie sure doesn’t.

Should you see it?

Nope. I am hoping when I see Proud Mary later this week I can recommend that instead.

Were you really thinking of quitting reviews?

Yeah right up until I wrote this. I realized if nothing else Reviewers can hold Hollywood somewhat accountable. If “we” are to blame for the down turn in box office – maybe rather than being antagonistic towards its audiences and the reviewers Hollywood might start talking to us? It’s a vain hope, but hey a girl can dream.

So you’re not?

Nope. Still going strong. Still trying to see what I can do to stir up more viewers/readers, but I have ideas.

What’s Proud Mary?

Atomic Blonde/John Wick but with Taraji P Henderson and it looks awesome.

Thanks for bearing with me on this really long review and editorial folks. Hope you stick around and as always if you want to support me remember to like, share, retweet, and reblog!

Happy New Year.

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7 thoughts on “Darke Reviews | The Commuter (2018)

  1. First – glad you’re still going to be doing the review thing, since I consistently agree with you, and there are only a few movies we disagree on.

    Second – I saw trailers for this, and saw a trailer that Rob Gronkowski photoshopped himself into… Honestly the Gronkowski version looked more compelling to me. The thought of having someone sitting there completely meta-aware of the the fact that they’re in a movie and the plot as it plays out being ignored by the main character seemed entertaining. It’s a joke about how the story is predictable, and unoriginal for a predictable, and unoriginal movie

    Third – As far as your other points. It’s not just you that has become more jaded about going to movies. I’ve noticed my interest waning over the past two to three years. Part of it is that I feel I have seen almost everything Hollywood has to offer – the “Seen it all” syndrome you reference. Another part is that I think I’m just paying more attention to what I’m watching these days, and not much that is released seems inspirational or even like it’s going to tell a compelling story.

    Let me elaborate verbosely.

    As I’ve been exposed to more and more stories as well as methods of telling a story over the years, I found an itch that had not been scratched in a while. I wanted to tell a story. But I’m no playwright or screenwriter. I don’t have the time or energy to put into writing a novel or even a short story with any kind of competency. I was kind of at a loss until Pris made me sit down and watch Critical Role. With that I was reminded of another story telling medium – Tabletop RPGs. My problem was the I had to DM if I wanted to move forward.

    Again, I don’t have the time to write out a long storyline, so I mostly have a high level idea and let my players run. The problem with this is I still need those dramatic moments that pull on the players’ emotional strings. For this, I pull inspiration from the movies I watch, the stories I read, the music I listen to, and anything else that makes me feel. I ask myself what happened and why did it make me feel this way…

    My whole point of this rambling is the elucidate the fact that changes in my life have altered the way I digest creative content. This is not limited to just reviewers or critics. For instance, I purposely remove my immersion in order to better understand what made me feel and why so I can incorporate those moments in my game and make a rambling story at least seem cohesive and have emotional impact.

    Apologies for the rambling, I felt context was necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t see this as rambling at all. DMing is a HUGE outlet for folks who want to tell a story, but don’t necessarily have the gift of gab as it were.

    I also think it brings to light that not just reviewers are picking up on things. We people like me and other YouTube personalities begin to explain elements of filmmaking we come to understand what works for us and what doesn’t. We learn and expect and when those expectations aren’t met – we grow disinterested.

    When they are though – even tired plots can become engaging.

    Look at Baby Driver. When I saw the first trailer I wasn’t too interested. It’s a teenage version of The Transporter, Driver, or a hundred other Heist movies that focus on the driver these days. In reality -…it still is that too!

    But due to what Edgar Wright did with the material, the acting (mostly), the effects, the stunts, and of course the music he elevated the mundane into something special.

    Like

  3. The best example of your point to me is Kubo. It’s a fairly standard adventure tale about a boy who is discovering his place in the world and within his family. The presentation, direction, camera work, writing, music, and characters elevated that movie to something truly special to the point where I was near tears the entire way through.

    That movie also stands out as one of the first I truly analyzed from a storytelling perspective. Which brings up a thought.

    I think there’s also an element here of just perspective changing as you get more informed. DMing pushed me to objectively look at emotional and dramatic/comedic beats, but that’s not what made me become analytical about them.

    You know me, I’ve always enjoyed analyzing what a dramatic beat means for a character. I never really started analyzing the quality of them, though, until I learned a little about the techniques used. I’m not nearly at the level of someone like yourself, but I’m familiar with some of the points of framing, music, pacing, and delivery. All of these things play into an effective dramatic/comedic beat. The boarding sequence in Murder on the Oriental Express helped immerse you into the setting. The music in something like Star Wars is iconic and helps immerse you into the galaxy. The timing and delivery of the Marx Brothers in almost any of their movies (I recommend Animal Crackers or Horse Feathers) make their movies timeless as comedies. The Stairwell sequence of The Protector… blew my mind.

    The more you know about these, the more you’re able to determine the quality of these, the more it reminds you that you are watching a movie or consuming a product rather than experiencing something.

    I’m going to try something based on this conversation. If a movie grabs my attention, I’ll watch it twice. The first time will be my immersion test. Does this movie pull me in and get its point across? Did I enjoy it on a strictly emotional level? If so, I’ll go for a second viewing, and then try to analyze it. What are they doing with the camera? What do I notice about the writing? How’s the pacing?

    This might afford me time to just… have fun at a movie before trying to pull something out of it rather than entertainment. You might not be able to afford yourself this same sort of luxury, but I’ll definitely let you know how it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be honest, while I still need to get a review up on the first viewing I will go back and watch movies again that I didn’t like or thought were “Meh” and look for forgiveness or entertainment.

      A prime example is Justice League. I still believe we deserved better, but the more I think on what I did get – there are enough beats that are done right enough for me that it might be better than I originally though.

      “Save One” is an example of one of those beats.

      Like

      • Yeah, I’m speaking of going into a movie assuming positive intent as it were rather than to analyze it the first time ’round. To paraphrase something I recently heard from Rob Paulsen – nobody invests millions of dollars into something thinking ‘I hope people hate this.’

        To me that resonated. No one puts art or other creative work out there hoping their audience detests it. They’re putting something out there of as high quality as they can make, and going in with a bit of naïveté might help to enhance the experience. Sometimes, a movie is just bad, and it happens. I wonder, though, how much of the perspective on a film changes going in with this sort of mindset. I dunno, it could also be that I shouldn’t try to wax philosophic about art early in the morning. I’d like to thank you for always allowing myself to do so, and creating a space to get thoughts out there, though. This is one of a select few sites that I will actually comment on and leave notifications on for, and that’s a reflection of yourself and how you run this joint.

        Also, I uhhhh… I still need to watch that movie.

        I’m very much in the camp of not wanting to corrupt my view of DC by sticking with the DCAU. I’ll end up watching it, but on video (rent from Amazon or something), and then decide if I want to buy it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Quit reviewing movies crossed your mind?
    Perish the thought.
    I am not a frequent movie goer and base my initial reaction to a movie by how and what is presented in the trailers or passing advertisements I may happen to see.
    This particular offering had gotten my attention.
    Now, let us progress to the ‘what if you quit writing reviews’
    I find time to see the movie, spend the $ to do so and walk out after seeing it questioning why.
    While I’m glad that you got to see this film gratis, I am even more pleased that I don’t have to spent the $ only to be disappointed.
    In summation, I believe a lot of folks who read your reviews could be compared to smoke detectors. Silent aside from the occasional chirp because your reviews keep us from getting burned by a horrible waste of time and energy seeing a piece of crap movie.
    My two point 3 cents

    Liked by 1 person

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