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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



The Commuter, review: Taken, for a $100,000 ride

The Commuter, review: Taken, for a $100,000 ride

More than the USA, India has a several million persons commuting to and fro work in local trains on a daily basis. There are groups that travel in the same train every day, sit at the same spot and forge strong friendships, for decades. Mumbai-ites pack local trains much beyond capacity and travel on footboards too, since the city is overpopulated and these are open trains. Metro rails are coming along, and gradually supplementing the local rakes. In this thrill-laden exercise, The Commuter is picked by sinister elements to carry out a search mission on the train and identify a witness whose testimony will help pin a murder charge on some high-ranking government officials. Reasonably high on stunts, The Commuter is low on logic.

Michael MacCauley goes through the same boring routine prior to his daily commute to work as an insurance salesman. He spends time with his wife Karen and son Danny before boarding the train to work, frequently engaging with other commuters like Walt. Then, on this fateful day, he is laid off. It’s not his fault; times are bad. Michael meets his friend, Detective Alex Murphy, who was his former partner during his time as an NYPD detective. As they chat, they see a news story in a giant TV screen about a city planner who supposedly jumped to his death. Michael tells Murphy that he has not told Karen about being laid off.

On the train ride home, Michael is told by regular fellow commuter Walt that a woman is observing him. Soon she comes up, introduces herself as Joanna and talks to him. After a brief chat, Joanna tells Michael that there is a compartment in one of the train's washrooms that contains $25,000, plus another $75,000 in cash. She tells him he can have it as long as he helps find someone before the last train stop, at Cold Spring. The person is using the alias "Prynne". Before departing, Joanna hints at knowing about Michael being a former cop.

Michael looks in the designated washroom and finds the money. When the train reaches a stop, a young woman tries to claim the money. She then hands Michael an envelope, saying it is a warning. Michael finds it contains Karen's wedding ring. Michael tries to call Karen but cannot reach her. He tries Murphy and gets the same result, but leaves a voicemail. Joanna contacts him, telling him he has made his choice and must now find Prynne, or something will happen to his family.

Suspense and mystery aplenty, like a modern day Agatha Christie, punctuated with action and even murder. A massive train wreck in the climax. Yet Byron Willinger & Phil De Blasi (Skyscraper, Paradise Lost) and Ryan Engle (On a Clear Day, Non-stop) have inherent flaws in their script. The baddies who are orchestrating the charade have undercover agents on board the train, are able to bump off a passenger after he has alighted, know that the alias of their target is ‘Prynne’ and there is one passenger reading a book that has a character called Prynne, and yet they need to go through the rigmarole of involving and innocent commuter and paying $100,000. Michael has no skill that the ungodly do not possess themselves, so why him?

A Neeson faithful, Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Shallows—three outings together) is still smitten with the Taken (2008) mode of the Irishman, who is now 65. Being blackmailed into doing something highly illegal/criminal to get his loved ones back should now be a thing of the past for the talented actor. There is no back-story about his NYPD days and what turned him into an insurance salesman. Moreover, there is little sympathy generated for him when he loses his job because he looks like he s at retirement age anyway. Collet-Serra has paced the film evenly, with just the right amount of action coming at the fight moment. Problem is the screenplay is too elaborate for the thin storyline.

Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House) has a remarkably emotive face that has several layers of angst and emotion, which can be well utilised in vehicles like Schindler’s List. He goes through this one, as he did with Mark Felt, with serious composure. His action scenes are less convincing. Vera Farmiga (Safe House, The Conjuring, Special Correspondents) as Joanna is the mystery woman who makes the preposition to Michael looks seductive and provides an ending that hints at a sequel. Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring, Batman v/s Superman: Dawn of Justice) is Detective Alex "Murph" Murphy, and no spoilers here. Jonathan Banks as the good-hearted Walt who meets an untimely death tugs at your heart.

Also in the cast are Kingsley Ben-Adir as Special Agent Garcia, Killian Scott as F.B.I. Agent Dylan, Shazad Latif as Vince and Pat Kiernan (Canadian-American TV host) as himself.

At 105 minutes, the length is just right for a suspense-action-thriller. Okay on the action and thriller components, the film lacks steadily unravelling suspense.


Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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