TheWife may not be as powerful or emotionally wrenching as the thoughts running through its central figure’s head, but the woman playing her makes this worth checking out. Glenn Close has given many fine performances in her long career and this is among the top ones. She plays Joan Archer and she’s known only by who she’s married to – acclaimed author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). The film opens with an early morning phone call where he finds out he’s won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
What transpires afterwards is an examination of their complicated marriage that began as an affair when he was a professor and she was an aspiring writer coed. He still fools around and she manages to put up with it. The list of annoyances extends to her dealing with the fawning behavior of those around him. There are two exceptions. One is their son (Max Irons) who’s trying make his own mark in his Dad’s profession and is forever stuck in his large shadow. The other is Joseph’s would-be biographer (Christian Slater) who believes there’s more to his subject’s legacy and partnership with Joan.
The film is set in Stockholm. This is due to the prestigious award Joseph is about to receive. It also seems appropriate as Joan begins to feel captive in her unhappy existence. Director Björn Runge is a native of the nation as we witness its cold winter and frosty breakdown of our leads.
We see flashbacks of their story. While the two actors playing them as newlyweds (Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd) do a decent job mimicking Close and Pryce, TheWife shines when the camera is trained on their elders counterparts. Starke, by the way, is the real life daughter of Close. Based on a novel from Meg Wolitzer and adapted by Jane Anderson, the picture doesn’t dwell much on what made this rocky union produce literary masterworks. That might’ve provided some insight, but Close’s own wrenching masterwork (with a game Pryce alongside) will have you ready to continue to the next chapter.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his aging action star Liam Neeson collaborate for the fourth time with TheCommuter. If you remember their 2014 effort Non–Stop quite vividly, good for you because I had forgotten much of it. That pic put Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long flight in which he was forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. Four years later, this one puts Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long train ride in which he is forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. If that makes you think TheCommuter doesn’t exactly aim high, you’d be correct.
The trick with these movies is whether we can successfully put our brains aside and just enjoy the junk food genre offerings. This time around, the director and star don’t make it very easy for us. Neeson is Michael, an ex NYC cop turned life insurance agent for the last decade. He’s 60 (as he reminds us a few times) with a wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and son about to enter college. It’s tough for the family man to make ends meet and that’s thrown into chaos when he’s unceremoniously fired. Each day he makes a long commute home and on the day of his unexpected dismissal, more surprises follow. He’s approached on the train by Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and she offers an opportunity. There’s $100,000 for Michael if he can identify and place a GPS tracker on a passenger who goes by Prynne. Farmiga’s Conjuring hubby Patrick Wilson turns up as Michael’s old partner.
This is all tied to a murder investigation and Prynne is a witness. Joanna’s benefactors want Prynne eliminated and Michael is their ticket to make that happen. All this leads to Michael having to make a series of moral decisions while intermittently kicking an appropriate amount of baddie butt. We also are introduced to the train’s other passengers – some of whom are given perfunctory subplots while we await Prynne’s grand reveal.
TheCommuter, quite frankly, is totally ludicrous and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The same could certainly be said of Unknown (the first Collet-Serra/Neeson joint) or Non–Stop. Yet I found both to be slightly more entertaining than this. The screenplay (which somehow took three people to write it) does too little to engage us with its silly plot and a couple of decently choreographed action sequences aren’t enough to save it. Neeson gives it his earnest and occasionally intense all. Bless his heart for not coasting as the story does.
It’s been nine years since Liam Neeson reinvented himself as everyone’s go to elder action star with Taken. The last couple of years have seen him focusing on other genres, but he’s back in kick ass mode next weekend with TheCommuter. This marks his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra after Unknown, Non–Stop, and RunAllNight. Costars include Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (presumably doing no conjuring work), as well as Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, and Elizabeth McGovern.
Mr. Neeson’s first two pictures with this director came while he was still packing in audiences with the Taken franchise. That helped propel Unknown and Non–Stop to openings above $20 million. RunAllNight (and another more recent Neeson action flick AWalkAmongtheTombstones) both failed to reach the teens in their debuts.
TheCommuter has received decent reviews so far and sits at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, recent evidence has shown the star’s box office potency in the genre has waned. I’ll predict this reaches low to possibly higher teens for its four-day MLK weekend debut.
TheCommuter opening weekend prediction: $14.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)