4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2018; PG-13 for intense action/violence, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K)
Best extra: “End of the Line”
WOULD YOU take the money?
That’s the question in the latest pairing between Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra and action-actor Liam Neeson.
Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is a 60-year-old insurance salesman, with a loving wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and teenage son. Like most, they took a bath in 2008 and are teetering on the edge of recovery, with a second mortgage and their boy getting ready for college. An expensive college.
“The Commuter” opens with a well-composed montage of Michael’s daily commute. It’s the same-old, same-old every day, with seasonal variations. He’s seen the same faces, and walked the same paths for the past 10 years to his job in New York City. And then, one morning, he’s fired. Let go with a severance check and a “good luck.”
Mike can’t bring himself to tell his wife as he takes the train home. A stranger calling herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga) takes a seat across from him and makes a proposition. Would Mike find and target a mystery commuter, Prynne, for $100,000 in cash?
Joanna disappears before Mike can ask many questions – and he’s got plenty of them, especially after he finds the first cash installment. We all know this is too good to be true.
“If somebody comes up to you and offers you a lot of money for doing what you know might not be right, you have to decide what you’re going to do,” Producer Andrew Rona says in “End of the Line,” one of two bonus features on Lionsgate’s presentation.
Sure enough, fights, flight and murder begin popping up all over – and under – the train. The big crash – we know it’s coming – is only the beginning of a tense third act.
This is the fourth team-up for Collet-Serra and Neeson, whose earlier films include “Unknown” (2011), “Non-Stop” (2014) and “Run All Night” (2015). Writers Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi used their commuter experiences as inspiration. “We said to ourselves, ‘What if this whole world could be turned upside-down into an intense Hitchcockian thriller?” de Blasi says.
Indeed, “The Commuter” has a touch of that old Hitchcock suspense. Mike is an “everyman” … with a surprise in his past that Joanna has locked onto, something that allows him to deal with all the trouble that comes his way. “Liam is a modern day John Wayne in some ways. He’s a very sympathetic, heroic character, but he does it with a quiet reserve,” Producer Alex Heineman says.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Digitally shot from 3.4K cameras, “The Commuter” was mastered in 4K, but the FX were done in 2K, so sharpness drops a bit during some scenes such as the big train crash.
As a whole, the 2160p Ultra 4K and 1080p Blu-ray both look good in their respective formats. Naturally, the 4K provides more nuances in color, sharper detail, dimension and contrast. The main action takes place on a commuter train, so don’t expect much in the way of bright color. Collet-Serra and director of photography Paul Cameron make excellent use of shadows to help convey claustrophobic interior settings. The look is authentic even though the film was primarily shot in England, with a few scenes filmed in NYC and Sacramento, Calif.
“We had to shoot the movie completely in London,” Heineman says. “We actually only shot two days in New York, but we recreated [the train] at Pinewood Studios … Ninety-percent of the actors are from the U.K., but they’re all playing New Yorkers.”
The primary choice of soundtracks is Dolby Atmos and an eight-channel Dolby TrueHD. Each offer clearly delivered dialogue and good immersive effects. Atmos height speakers put viewers in the heart of the big action as the train goes out of control, derails and crashes. It’s hard not to duck.
Original music is by Roque Baños, who composed scores for “Don’t Breathe” (2016), “Risen” (2016) and “In the Heart of the Sea” (2015).
“End of the Line” has interviews with the director, producers, Neeson, Farmiga, co-stars Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill and others. After listening to the actors speaking in American accents, it’s almost a shock to hear all the multi-national voices.
“Off the Rails” focuses on the actors and crew and what it was like to shoot in confined spaces.
It’s well worth noting Lionsgate is the only studio that puts its extras on both the Ultra 4K disc and Blu-ray disc. There’s no need to load and re-load to watch bonus material.
What’s not to love about watching Neeson do his thing? Yes, coincidence in “The Commuter” is remarkable, plot points implausible, but the Hitchcockian mystery, tension and menace is dead-on. The final third is a winner. All aboard!
- Kay Reynolds