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Is The Commuter Based On A True Story?

The rise of Liam Neeson as an everyman action star (beginning more or less with 2005's "Batman Begins") remains one of the more unexpected, and unexpectedly enjoyable, things to happen in the realm of 21st Century cinema. Given the fervent way in which audiences continue to embrace his more action-forward flicks it's hardly a surprise Neeson keeps cranking them out, even as the sight of him throwing down with bad guys is fast becoming its own sort of thrillingly absurdist pastiche.

Nonetheless, one of the biggest champions in Neeson's emergence as an action hero is undoubtedly Jaume Collett-Serra, who's directed the actor in four such flicks to date, including the 2018 actioner "The Commuter." That film found Neeson portraying Michael MacCauley, a former NYPD officer who's making his way as an insurance man. After losing his job, Michael's fateful day takes a turn for the unexpected on his train commute home, when he meets a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him $100,000 to identify a fellow passenger she claims is a wanted criminal.

That search results in several bouts of high-octane action set largely within the constrictive confines of subway cars. And even as patently (yet blissfully) ridiculous as much of the action is, the setup itself is also just believable enough to make one wonder if "The Commuter" might actually have basis in real world events. 

The Commuter is wholly a work of fiction

So, is "The Commuter" actually based on some twisted real-world event that set a seemingly decent man on the path to fisticuffs with a handful of murderous bad guys? Sorry to burst any bubbles for those who really want that to be true, but no, "The Commuter" is not based on a true story of any sort. That shouldn't be entirely surprising, of course, because as plausible as the setup in "The Commuter" might seem, it really is sort of ludicrous in that way that only over-the-top action movies can be.

And make no mistake, "The Commuter" is a movie cut directly from the bombastic '90s action movie cloth. In terms of plotting, it's also a shameless retread of one of Neeson's and Collett-Serra's prior collaborations, 2014's plane-set thriller "Non-Stop." Not surprisingly, "The Commuter" was scripted by "Non-Stop" writer Ryan Engle ("Rampage"), who was working from an original story conjured by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi.

Obvious narrative similarities aside, "The Commuter" unfortunately didn't fare quite as well at the box-office as the $222 million-grossing (per Box Office Mojo) "Non-Stop," pulling in just under $120 million (again, according to Box Office Mojo) in worldwide ticket sales. Whether or not that's a sign of savvy fans recognizing "The Commuter" as a twice-told tale, or just a sign that they're finally wearying of Neeson's action star status, remains to be seen. Either way, the actor shows no sign of abandoning the action genre for the foreseeable future.