Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Geriatric Derring-Do: Liam Neeson as “The Commuter”

Old people, we’re told, don’t have much social value. Because the COVID-19 pandemic seems to particularly target elders 65 and older, there are those—impatient to return to post-quarantine life—who feel oldsters should be willing to self-sacrifice so that the economy can resume its normal function. Maybe it makes sense that, as in Midsommar, the elderly should gladly give up their lives for the sake of the social organism. But I’m not convinced senior citizens are so easily expendable. Exhibit A: Liam Neeson.

Neeson was 65 when he made The Commuter in 2018. This was hardly the first action movie in which he revealed a talent for geriatric derring-do. Though his star-making role in Schindler’s List  hardly qualified him as an action hero, he has specialized (particularly since Taken in 2008) in playing tough-minded good guys who belie their age by springing into action when the chips are down. On planes, trains, and automobiles, he’s done what a man has to do, saving his family (not to mention humanity in general) by taking down baddies by any means necessary.

A commuter train out of New York City is the basic locale for most of The Commuter. As Neeson’s Michael McCauley heads for home after a particularly bad day at the office, all hell seems to break loose, to the extent that we housebound folk might suddenly feel ourselves lucky to be living in quarantine. On the train with him are an assassin, a corpse, a damsel in distress, some innocent bystanders (or are they?), a satchel full of money, and a mysterious femme fatale (Vera Farmiga) who appears to be behind the whole thing. There’s also the inevitable buddy who turns out to be Not What He Seems. McCauley, though baffled by what’s going on, quickly springs into action, using every ounce of his physical agility and his mental smarts to figure out the right course of action This includes crawling underneath the train carriage at one point and finding a way to de-couple the last car at another. (Props here to the stuntmen: it certainly all looks real, and tremendously scary.)

To be honest,  I couldn’t explain the film’s convoluted plot if I tried. But that hardly matters. The sole purpose of a movie like this one is to rev up the viewer’s adrenaline. It’s a classier, more star-driven version of what we aimed for when I was the story editor for Roger Corman at Concorde-New Horizons. making flicks whose sole purpose was to provide excitement. (Corman generally upped the ante by finding a way to sneak in some T&A, but all the blood and gore here is strictly PG-13.).

Though Neeson has had some more complex roles over the years (for instance, he played sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in 2004), there’s evidence his spate of action films has been good to him. As he approaches age 70, he seems to be taking on multiple roles every year. IMDB tells me he currently has three films in post-production, two in pre-production, and one supposedly filming, though of course the current pandemic has had something to say about that.  And he’s just signed to play the role of Philip Marlowe in a new take on Raymond Chandler’s classic detective hero.

It bears noticing that our current presidential candidates of both parties are septuagenarians. We can certainly argue about the wisdom of entrusting our ship of state to someone of advanced years. But if a seventy-year-old can be elected President of the United States, there’s no reason we can’t be treated to a septuagenarian who really kicks butt.

No comments:

Post a Comment