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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Commuter

“The Post” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

My sympathies went right out to Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) early on in “The Commuter.” After a montage in which several seasons and weather patterns go by and the passage of time is made clear, Michael is summarily dismissed from his job as an insurance salesman in Manhattan. It’s also clear from these opening moments that he loves his family and is good at his job. However, he is leveraged to the hilt and his family’s finances are hanging by a thread. This is devastating news. As he leaves the office building for the last time there is an extreme overhead shot looking down on Michael. My own thought about the situation was that I would be so incredibly enraged.

Michael takes it differently though. He’s upset, but rather than in an angry way, he is more upset in an anxious and depressed way. He is so unsure about his life at that moment that when his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) calls, he does not break the news to her. As his buddy Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson), an ex-partner of Michael’s from back when he was a cop, points out to him, that is not a good idea. The sooner he comes clean, the better.

After drowning his sorrows with Alex at a local Irish bar frequented by cops, including a newly appointed captain who the two aren’t so sure about, played by Sam Neill, Michael leaves and hops on his usual commuter train home to Tarrytown, NY. It’s on this ride that he is approached by a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who chats him up and proposes to him a hypothetical situation in which he has to find someone on the train and plant a tracking device in that person’s bag. He doesn’t know who they are, what they look like, or what the bag looks like. All he knows is that the person plans to get off at the Cold Spring stop (several stops after his usual one) and that the person goes by the alias Prynne. Do this and he gets $100,000.

So the chase is on, happening in more or less real time as the train moves out of Grand Central Station and along to various stops along the Hudson line. Director Jaume Collet-Serra takes advantage of the inherent tension in the close quarters and time ticking by as the train moves closer to Cold Spring. Michael’s investigative skills come in handy as he is able to determine who the Cold Spring destined passengers are and size them up as the potential target. What at first seems like an insurmountable task becomes increasingly more do-able as Michael makes progress.

The level to which I enjoyed “The Commuter” is a purely visceral, entertaining one. Along with the suspense there is some good humor (a jab at Goldman Sachs is particularly rousing). However, this is the kind of movie in which it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride rather than scrutinize the details of the plot too much. To say that some of what happens in the movie is extremely implausible is an understatement.

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There is also a go nowhere sub plot involving the people who Joanna works for kidnapping Michael’s family to get him to do what they want. The details on that are murky at best since we only hear it on the phone from Michael’s point of view and never actually see it take place. It all gets waived away at the end with some dialogue, but even after all is said and done I am very unclear as to what happened with them and why.

The final scene in the movie wraps up the story way too neatly. It’s the aspect of “The Commuter” that makes the least amount of sense. However, it does take care of a loose end and prevents the story from being too overloaded. By the end of the movie, we don’t have answers to all of our questions in regard to what just happened and why, but there are enough answers to be satisfied. Again, don’t think too much about it. Just enjoy the train ride. Plus the scenery along the Hudson is beautiful. Rent it.

Also New This Week

The Post

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The central story of “The Post” is the decision that had to be made by “The Washington Post” editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) on whether to publish some leaked top secret documents regarding the Vietnam War. The decision is both personal and professional for Kay, as she is a close friend of Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the former secretary of state under Kennedy and Johnson and the one who many regard as the primary architect of the war. Bradlee makes an interesting argument to her about how the days of journalists being cozy with politicians has to be over, and how it is their job to hold them accountable.

He’s right. That’s the sweet spot—hold government officials accountable by printing facts. However, he also has a plan to defy Nixon’s ban on their reporter at his daughter’s wedding due to previous rude comments made about her. Bradlee gets self-righteous and arrogant, saying that the president has no right to revoke their credentials. There is a certain smugness in his attitude, as if he has free reign to do whatever he wants. The major irony here being that the press, and “The Washington Post” in particular, called Nixon to task for having pretty much the same attitude. But Bradlee’s holier than thou condescension in “The Post” speaks to a bigger issue, one of a lack of decency in the press that is backfiring on them today.

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Historical dramas like this one more often than not play on two levels: their time and our time. During their time (1971), the Vietnam War was going full force and the government was lying about it. Bradlee was right that the government should be held accountable. Flash forward to today, and these same institutions who once championed the leaking and publishing of government documents are all bent out of shape because Wikileaks published some emails by a presidential candidate they favored. The result is that this is not fair and ethical journalism, like Bradlee preaches in “The Post.” It’s clear bias. Add on top of this all of the mis-representing and agenda pushing that is so abundantly apparent in papers like “The Washington Post” in 2018, and it is no wonder that trust in the so-called legacy media is down and people are going online to search for balance in their news, or dare I say it, some real, actual truth.

I’m not sure if director Steven Spielberg and the folks involved in “The Post” meant for this movie to be a propaganda piece in its own right, extolling the virtues of once venerable institutions like “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times.” If so, it doesn’t work. All it does is make it clear that the once noble ideals of journalism are long gone, and these newspapers are mere shadows of their former selves. Comparing then to now, which is inevitable to those who pay attention to such things, there is no contest. They knew how to do it right back then, and they did it with positive intentions and strong reasons. Journalists of today--and I use the word loosely—should feel shame after watching this movie. They’ve tarnished the brand to the point where it will be very difficult to repair. They could, however, learn a lesson from the real pros on how it is done—and done with integrity. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Deep Blue Sea 2,” in which pharmaceuticals are tested on bull sharks—with predictable results; and “Humor Me,” about a down on his luck award-winning playwright who puts on a show in his father’s retirement home, starring Jemaine Clement, Elliott Gould, and Annie Potts.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.