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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Commuter’

3 Stars — Challenging

There are many stories in the media about people giving in to graft, corruption and financial temptation. It is hard to evaluate the rationale expressed by the person responsible when it comes to these kinds of ethical failures. Did someone have a moral lapse or is it just that the society no longer has any moral benchmarks.

The Commuter takes us on a roller-coaster train ride out of Grand Central Terminal in New York City as Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is heading home and unwittingly finds himself at the center of a major crime. He has just been informed that he is out of a job, and he is on his way home to give the bad news to his wife and family.

Meanwhile, in the swirl of criminal activity in Manhattan, a key city employee has been reported to have taken his own life when it was discovered that he was a manager involved in a major financial crime.

Unaware of this breaking story, MacCauley is approached on the train by a woman who informs him that his family is in grave danger and he can save them if he locates someone on the train for her. While the audience may have been as confused about this as he was, his fear of his wife and kids being kidnapped both paralyzes him and propels him into action. It seems that he has been targeted due to the fact that, in an earlier part of his life he was a detective who had achieved a level of success in finding missing persons.

What unfolds next is an adrenaline-rush of murders, intrigue and train wrecks that lead to the solving of the crime against the city. Someone on the train knows the real story of what happened at City Hall and a major crime syndicate doesn’t want this person to testify about what they know.

While they don’t know who the person is, they do know that MacCauley is on the same train and he is well-suited to track people down.

This has all the components of a good police story, but it is also a glimpse into a world where there are no ethical or moral boundaries. We don’t want the snitch on the train to talk, so let’s just kill everyone on board the train! MacCauley becomes the moral voice who has to determine who lives and who doesn’t. We get a glimpse of his own moral compass as we watch events unfold.

Certainly this story raises some interesting questions, whether the author intended to or not. Is our society becoming more or less sensitive to ethical behavior? What institutions in our society hold the key to teaching moral precepts in a post-modern culture? Is there honor in risking your life to uphold the values of human compassion and caring for one another.

The Commuter may not have intended for this to be a morality play, but it has all the components to challenge us in a similar way. This is not a film for younger viewers, and it is not for those who don’t like violence.

Nevertheless, it is a well-told story of moral courage while taking a wild ride up the Hudson River.

Discussion

» Do you believe that we have lost our moral compass as a society? Why do you answer as you do?

» If you were forced to harm a stranger or harm your family what would you do and why?

» The criminal elements in our society create chaos at almost every level. What do you think is the solution?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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