Cop-turned-insurance salesman Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is a modern-day Willy Loman. Despite being a “good soldier” who worked hard and played by the rules, the reality is, as his heartless boss tells him before issuing his P45, “sometimes soldiers end up casualties”. With two mortgages, a son to put through college and what little savings he had wiped out overnight following the financial crisis of 2008, the scrapheap or suicide beckons.
That is, until he receives an unexpected lifeline in the shape of a “hypothetical question” from a mysterious commuter who goes by the name of Joanna (Vera Farmiga). There is a passenger who “doesn’t belong”. They are carrying a bag which contains stolen property. For a not to be sniffed at $100k, will he plant a tracker on said bag before the passenger reaches their destination of Cold Springs? Or will he return home with shallow pockets and deep concerns about his future?
In a sense, he is asked to behave like the greedy bankers whose reckless actions led to his sudden demise: make decisions for personal financial gain without ever knowing or caring about the consequences on the individuals affected, their families and the communities in which they live. “What kind of person are you?” asks Joanne leadingly. His answer to which, a reluctant acceptance fuelled by the advance of $25k, calls to mind a lyric from The Threepenny Opera: “Food is the first thing, morals follow on.”
Thanks to a combination of inventive camerawork and slick editing, a taut script and an effective score, director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, Non-Stop) has turned the preposterous plot into a surprisingly enjoyable thriller which is bolstered by Neeson being Neeson and satirical digs at the spivs and speculators who got us into the current financial crisis. “Goldman Sachs,” growls Michael before issuing a middle finger to an arrogant broker, “on behalf of the American people, f**k you!”