Review by-Jarrett Leahy
During a crowded transatlantic flight to London, an unknown passenger has hacked into the secure cell phone network of air marshal Bill Marks, threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless the airline wires $150,000,000 to an offshore bank account. Unsure which traveler the threats are coming from, Marks begins the difficult task of identifying possible suspects all while trying to protect the passengers and crew he was hired to safeguard.
Similar in nature to Joel Schumacher’s 2002 mystery thriller, Phone Booth, Non-Stop has an amusing, over-the-top quality that feels a bit like a throwback homage to the B-movie disaster films of 1970’s. Being confined, for a large majority of the movie, in the cramped settings of a commuter plane offers a heightened claustrophobic feel, adding to the film’s tension and uncertainty, as we try to closely scrutinize each passenger. Knowing this, the camera seems to linger playfully on certain commuters, as if silently asking the viewer, “Do you think it’s him? What about her?” However, what makes Non-Stop a successful thriller is its cagey ability to never cast obvious suspicions on any one passenger, which in turn makes just about everyone on the plane a possible suspect, including Neeson. This ably strings us along as the engrossing absurdity begins to mount. We simply need to know who is responsible for all this madness.
Liam Neeson’s unusual resurgence as an action star has given us some thrilling surprises (Batman Begins, Taken, The Grey) and some glaring misfires (Taken 2, Battleship, Wrath of the Titans), so I’m never really sure what to expect when going into one of his latest efforts. Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra was brought in to direct Non-Stop. Collet-Serra and Neeson had previously worked together on another of Neeson’s recent disappointments, the 2011 convoluted mystery drama, Unknown. Luckily for us, this newest collaboration elicits better results. Bill Marks, Neeson’s character, is a much overused Hollywood archetype: a tormented soul whose alcoholic tendencies help numb the pain of his haunted past. However, while most actors would be tempted to mail it in and simply collect a fat paycheck, it is Neeson’s charm and sincere commitment to the character that keeps us from simply writing this off as just another hackneyed and cliche-ridden bore. He makes us care for this man, and we desperately want to believe he has everyone’s well-being at heart, even as evidence that might contradict such feelings builds.
Non-Stop’s unusually gifted supporting cast, including Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abby), Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), and most notably, four-Time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, aided my enjoyment greatly. It was in fact Moore’s casting that I found brought a highest level of respectability and cohesion to this farfetched thriller. The uncommonly cool, withdrawn persona her character exudes did cast shrouds of doubt to her innocence in this disorienting mystery. A few times I found myself questioning what exactly were her motives for helping this desperate air marshal? Moore and Neeson last worked together on the 2009 critically panned Chloe. Seeing them get a second chance to perform on screen again was an unanticipated treat.
Non-Stop is obviously not Oscar-worthy material, but for a film that was originally released during the typically fruitless first few months of the new movie year, it is a surprisingly shrewd, entertaining, and tense thriller. While admittedly the ending flies off the handles, the previous portions of the film left me so on edge that the wildly climactic conclusion was almost a welcomed release from the diverting anxiety that had built up. I can now see why Jason, one of our contributing writers, had it listed on his Mid-Year ballot of memorable movies from the first half of 2014. It’s a Liam Neeson thriller definitely worth checking out.-JL
Edited by-Michelle Zenor