February 10th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Blackouts due to closure of coal-fired power stations

EDITORIAL Behind China's push for global power

CANBERRA OBSERVED The left's appetite for change can't be satisfied

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The Four Ideologies of the 21st century: Transgenderism, Libertarianism, cultural and Economic, and Radical Environmentalism

SEX-TRAFFICKING Meet modern slavery - in your very suburb

EUTHANASIA Delivering Victoria's death law: an unedifying spectacle

ENVIRONMENT Too hot? Too cold? Blame global warming

OPINION Report on child sexual abuse aimed at Church

FREEDOM OF RELIGION 'Equality' and equally disingenuous terms

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudis, Israel confirm Middle East alliance

OBITUARY To the memory of a multimedia Chestertonian: Tony Evans

MUSIC Straight to the heart: for the listener, at least

CINEMA The Commuter: And my criteria for reviewing films

BOOK REVIEW Essays take 'settled science' to task

BOOK REVIEW A pathway through a tangle of nonsense

BOOK REVIEW Quarterly Essay

LETTERS

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CINEMA
The Commuter: And my criteria for reviewing films


by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, February 10, 2018

The Commuter is a modern Hitchockian thriller, in which a seemingly ordinary man is thrust into the middle of extraordinary and dangerous circumstances. It is an entertainment, not a work of philosophy or social commentary, but one that through its choices still hints at a philosophy of life and what makes it worthwhile.

Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson) is a dedicated family man – and former police officer – who has worked as an insurance salesman for a decade. Every day he takes the train from his home in the suburbs to his job in the city. Along the way he reads his son’s schoolbooks so he can help him with his studies when he gets home.

The McCauleys are in debt, but as long as they keep working they’re able to cover them. Things go bad when Michael is sacked so the company doesn’t have to cover his long-service benefits. He catches up with his old partner, Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson), for drinks and the two swap notes on changes in the police force and changes in their lives.

On the train home Michael is approached by Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who claims to be a psychologist and researcher. She offers him a hypothetical challenge: if he were paid $100,000 would he find a person on the train who does not belong? He won’t know what will happen to that person, but he will be paid. Michael is skeptical, but Joanna goes on to say that $25,000 is hidden in the bathroom – if he takes the money, then Joanna and her agents will assume that he has accepted the offer. She leaves the train and Michael discovers the money.

But there is now a catch – if Michael tries to back out of the deal, even if he gives the money back, his family will be harmed as will anyone he tries to talk to about it. Michael is now in a race against time to find a stranger, save his family, and still foil whatever plot Joanna has concocted.

The Commuter is a movie with a simple plot, but an expert execution. It is cinematic in the best sense of the word, using moving images and soundscapes to tell its story. It entertains but within its “entertainment” it promotes certain values – the values of honour and family and trust and decency. It critiques those who think that nobility gets in the way of practicality, by presenting nobility as something that can be attained by ordinary folk doing the right thing and looking out for each other. This implied critique is not just aimed at those who seek to do violence, but at those who harm through their lack of regard for others, those who take advantage of others from a distance, say through the financial or political system.

Critical criteria: an explanation

Interested readers often ask why some movies are reviewed and not others, and how I make my judgements. Working with the editor, we try to work out which film is most suitable for review. Suitability, here, is a complex thing. The key questions are: will people watch this film? Or should they watch this film? If so, what should they be aware of? One reason not many arthouse, indie or foreign films are not covered is availability. There are maybe 30 or so cinemas in the country that regularly run such films, and they’re all located in cities or the inner city. In contrast, there are at least 70 Event cinemas in the country, let alone the other major chains.

Following in the footsteps of critics such as G.K. Chesterton and Marshall McLuhan, I see the role of the critic as being one of making sense of culture via its artifacts – it’s about what the movies say about the people making them and the people watching them.

Movies are a mass medium. They cost a fortune to make and are only made if their producers think they can make money. Therefore, they can act as a snapshot of what is valued or thought to be valued in a particular place and time. At the same time, their technical qualities can be compared against other movies to see how they measure up as a work of art.

No review can cover everything and it may not mention things that some audiences really want to know – that is why it is a good idea to read several reviews. It is also important to remember that a review is not necessarily an endorsement – in fact, it may be written as a direct critique of a film and the ideas it presents.

Finally, there is the question of taste: I may like something, you may not. A film review should be seen as the beginning of a discussion, not the end of it.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).




























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