The Commuter: Movie Man Jackson

Should have flown. Oh wait…nevermind. Sixty year-old Michael McCauley lives as basic as one can in their sixties; mortgage, wife (Elizabeth McGovern), and soon-to-be-college-student son (Dean-Charles Chapman). He’s prepping for retirement in roughly five years from his financial adviser position, a role he took some years back after serving in the New York police force.

Costs a lot to send a kid through university, however, and Michael’s best laid plans are obliterated when life happens. On his daily ride home on the train, he’s approached by a “social experimenter” in Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who offers to solve all of Michael’s financial problems if he can do one thing: Find the person who isn’t supposed to be on the train, for they have something very valuable in their bag. Doing this nets Michael 100K, but failure to do so may result in loss of life for everyone on the train, and even those off it in Mike’s family.

Honestly, it’s fascinating how one Liam Neeson has not only created a genre for himself, but for other older actors and some actresses since Bryan Mills introduced his set of skills to the world in 2008 with Taken. Ever since that movie, it’s been a boom to Neeson’s career. There’s value in a person knowing what they’re getting. I don’t even know if The Commuter is bad. It just…exists.

No, The Commuter isn’t bad because it’s two stars are solidly good at their day jobs. Yes, two stars, one of them being director and longtime Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night, Non-Stop). His direction is a formula for these types of films, and it is arguably a carbon copy of Run All Night. But it is an effective one, nonetheless, taking advantage of a tight and enclosed environment for some occasionally tense moments. Additionally, Serra manages to direct a fight scene that is somehow simultaneously (strangely) impressive and laughable. Hard to explain, but a person will know it when they see it.

And of course, there’s Ol’ Reliable, also known as Liam Neeson. I’m saying nothing that is not clear knowledge now, but the fact is, he can play this role in his sleep. This means that while he’s not necessarily stretched per se, he does bring a level of professionalism, commitment to the material, and—arguably most important—lead star power—critical as this story becomes more incredulous as the runtime goes on.

Speaking of star power, The Commuter is up there with Run All Night with regards to consisting of the most star power of any Liam Neeson-led movie from 2009 and beyond, featuring the likes of Conjuring co-stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, and even Sam Neill. But, none make their mark on the movie, either entrenched as stock stereotypical characters (Neill, Wilson), or barely present at all to do anything (Farmiga, Banks). Farmiga in particular is a disappointment; mainly due to how the film sets her up.

The Commuter has an awesome set-up. That’s not hyperbole, either; Collet-Serra’s first fifteen minutes are wonderful in laying out the story of one man and his traditional, nondescript life through unique editing. The introduction of Farmiga’s character is brilliant, as is the dilemma she presents, evoking shades of the classic opposing philosophical theories debate of deontology vs utilitarianism. Around the point that Farmiga physically exists the film is when the plot goes off the rails, much of it relying on this idea that people can control every little minutia of a particular situation well ahead of it actually occurring. Collet-Serra’s writing falls back more on the “Eureka” moment that Neeson’s ex-cop experiences rather than a logical process of elimination with snuffing out suspects. Lastly, the ending is very rough, way too neat, and opening up way more questions than answers.

Collectively, Neeson and Collet-Serra the director deliver The Commuter to its destination—barely. Still, better trips are out there for the fare it takes to get on this train.


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The Shallows: Movie Man Jackson


Can’t blame someone—or something—for trying to get a piece of Blake Lively. Taking some time off from medical school, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) goes on a getaway of sorts to clear her mind from a recent tragedy. Her destination is a nameless beach that her mother surfed on, and Nancy intends to do the same.

Catching a few good waves but wanting to catch one more great one before calling it a day, she stays out alone in an effort to do so. Immediately upon seeing the carcass of a large whale, Nancy crashes and is submerged underwater, and before she makes it back to the surface, a great white shark takes a bite out of her leg. Stranded on a rock 200 yards from shore, losing blood quick, and with no help to speak of, Nancy’s in a bad way, to put it mildly.


There’s Jaws, and there’s everything else when concerning shark movies. Nothing can ever top Spielberg’s classic, which might be why, aside from Open Water, we’ve seen so many goofy shark movies that SyFy seems to love. If you can’t top it, make it so different in tone that no comparisons can be made. But, so many intentionally bad entries into that subgenre make those types of movies played out now. As such, they make a movie like The Shallows, so obviously inspired by Spielberg’s vision, somewhat of a revelation.

At 87 minutes, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s (Run All Night, Non-Stop) latest is straigtforward, compact, and no frills. Thrills, however? Those exist in bunches. All things considered, Serra gets right to it and hardly ever lets up once he does. The danger that Nancy faces not just in the water, but outside of it, is palpable. Not a first-person style film (but focusing on a single person, predominantly), nevertheless, The Shallows is extremely immersive, quite possibly the most immersive feature yours truly has seen all year in a theater. That absolutely adds to the unnerving-at-times experience in a way I’m not sure watching this on home media would.


The keyword is lean, though. Which is fine, but it has to be acknowledged. There’s a family component that Serra injects, but it does little to register. It comes off as a little forced, perhaps because of the way many of these moments are displayed. Much of the film’s “backstory” comes via phone and videochat, and I actually found that to be a little distracting as opposed to emotionally endearing. The thrilling effect would be the same whether Nancy was doing this to honor someone, or doing it just to have a little vacation. Speaking of forced, the last few minutes feel so, as there’s a end song that won’t win any awards for subtlety.

Blake Lively’s work as Nancy Adams is pretty impressive. She seems to be coming into her own as a reliable presence in Hollywood, and her work here is worthy of praise. A much more physical performance than a wordy one, the audience is right there with Nancy as she tentatively steps into the water, loses blood, or is forced to stitch herself up. She’s in distress but not a damsel.

In a win when it comes to slasher movies, Nancy always has the audience support as opposed to wanting to see the monster win because the character(s) deserve their demises. This is undoubtedly her movie, no other human comes close to making an imprint, or rather, they aren’t allowed to. After Lively, the biggest contributors are a seagull affectionately named “Steven Seagull” that she plays off of, and of course, the great white who only shows himself when needed.


It’s 2016, not 1975, which means that The Shallows will not have the impact that Jaws had in straying people away from the water. But that doesn’t mean that The Shallows is a viewing experience that falls short. No shame at all being the second best shark movie of all time.


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Run All Night: Movie Man Jackson


“No sin goes unpunished in this life.”

Why does it feel like so many running/escape movies take place in the Empire State? Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is an old, grizzled, and essentially retired hitman. Every individual in the past he’s killed while working for his old mob boss and best friend Sean Maguire (Ed Harris) has weighed heavily on his psyche. His line of work has made family and relationships difficult, like the nonexistent one with his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman).

During a routine day as a limo (or cab?) driver, Michael becomes a witness to something he was not supposed to see after dropping off Sean’s son Danny for some business. As such, he is targeted by Danny, and only saved when Jimmy lays a fatal slug into him to save Michael. Angered by the death of his son, Sean commands the whole NY underworld to take down the father and son. If that wasn’t enough, the police, corrupt and honorable, are after the two as well. To survive, Jimmy and Michael have only one option: to Run All Night.


Yours truly cannot be the only one surprised that if you take the first letter out of the words Run All Night, you get a nice abbreviation of RAN, right? Intentionally or not, cool tidbit. RAN, like others movies based in New York revolving around being on the run like The Warriors and Escape from New York, is a nice, familiar, B-level movie that isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Behind the director’s chair for this one is Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop), going a third go-around with the 21st century action hero Liam Neeson. Both are extremely reliable and comfortable here, in nothing that hasn’t been seen or done before. Neeson may not be flexing a ton of acting muscle, but when he’s asked to do so it’s successful, as his character does have some layers to it. Whenever Liam appears in a film these days, action is almost always sure to follow. Truth be told, this isn’t action-filled and more along the lines of a drama with action interspersed at specific times. Nothing really looks amazing from an action sense, but it is all solid and far from shoddy. Neeson still has the particular set of skills, and Collet-Serra knows how to exhibit them.


There’s a predictability on two fronts with this flick. One reason being that, as alluded to, there’s really not a ton done here that hasn’t existed before. The other reason is that the story structure begins in media res, more towards the end than the absolute middle. As a result, it’s not where the movie is going, but how it will get there to what has been shown. This does lead to Run All Night feeling overly long at points. The predictability is not damming, but it is what it is.

Part of the reason why it isn’t damming is because almost everyone appearing in this gives a strong performance, with convincing New York accents nonetheless. Neeson has already been mentioned, but Ed Harris takes the cake. His character is calm, methodical and straightforward, seen most clearly in scenes with Neeson. One in particular seems like a well-done homage to Michael Mann’s Heat that truly raises the hunt.

Other supporting characters add a lot to RAN without the screen time Liam and Ed get. Vincent D’Onofrio may be channeling his years on Criminal Intent, but he looks and sounds the part as a police investigator. It is nice to see inspired work from Kinnaman after his RoboCop was so dull. He and Neeson work well together. A feel for his character is had, not liking what his father did but deep down still desiring a fulfilling relationship with him. As the real emotional cog of the story, Kinnaman deserves kudos for giving it that element. And who knew Common would be so effective as a hired gun? He blends in with the rest of the noteworthy cast and makes for a nice physical foil to the protagonist.


All of this adds up to Run All Night being a steady, unambitious, but reliable crime action-drama that probably doesn’t have to been seen on the silver screen, but isn’t a bad decision if done so. Running at night isn’t safe, but this film is and sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.

Grade: C+

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