Liam Neeson is at it again. The 65-year-old actor continues his late career metamorphosis into an action star with The Commuter (associate producer Lacey Darlene Paulson), a new thriller that sees him unwillingly caught up in a dangerous criminal conspiracy while on board a passenger train. The movie is full of thrills and twists and fits right in with a lot of Neeson's other recent work, but where did the movie come from? Is The Commuter based on a book, or is the film a completely original story?
The movie is not based on a book. Instead, it comes from a screenplay originally written by writing partners Byron Willinger and Philip De Blasi. The film is the first credited screenplay for the pair, and it was originally optioned by Gold Circle Films way back in 2010. At that time, The Fourth Kind (casting director Sue Jones) director Olatunde Osunsanmi was attached to helm the film, according to Variety's Dave McNary, but the picture had some trouble making it to screen. It eventually saw a rewrite, with Ryan Engle — who penned the similarly-themed Nissan vehicle Non-Stop (casting director Amanda Mackey) — contributing to the new script for new director, and frequent Neeson collaborator, Jaume Collet-Serra.
The story focuses on Michael McCauley (Neeson), an ordinary insurance salesman who's riding the train home one day when he's approached by a woman he doesn't know (Vera Farmiga). She tells him that she'll pay him $75,000 if he can locate a person on the train whom she says doesn't belong there, with him eventually coming to the realization that everyone on the train may be in danger if he doesn't solve the mystery he was assigned. So where did Willinger and De Blasi get their original idea for the story? Apparently, they were just interested in setting an action story on board a train, and thought that the plot device of finding one person among many made for an excellent hook.
"So on this train, what could go wrong? What could happen to you that would make an exciting story? And that's when we came up with the idea of Michael having to find somebody," the pair said in an interview with The Movie Times. "We're always attracted to strong dramatic questions, and the idea of finding one mystery person in a sea of humanity was something that really excited us."
Although the film is the first credit for Willinger and De Blasi, director Collet-Serra has helmed a number of Neeson's recent action films. There's Non-Stop, which features Neeson as an air marshal on a transatlantic flight who has to find a killer on board who is simultaneously framing him. The two also collaborated on Unknown (executive producer Susan Downey), which sees Neeson as a seemingly ordinary man who has his identity stolen after suffering a car accident on a trip to Berlin. Again, Neeson has to unravel a conspiracy against the clock in an action-packed manner (though he's not confined to a mass transit vehicle this time). Finally, there's Run All Night (casting director Cathy Sandrich), which stars Neeson as a mob hitman who goes on the run from his boss after killing his son in order to save his own son. This film again features the type of high-stakes, fast-paced action for which Neeson and Collet-Serra have become known.
The Commuter is not based on a book, but if the story feels a tiny bit familiar to you, it's probably because it's not the first time you've seen a movie directed by Jaume Collet-Serra in which Liam Neeson unravels a conspiracy against the clock and against the odds in order to save innocent people. At this point, it's basically an entire genre unto itself.