Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham and Anson Mount
Written By: John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle
Directed By: Juame Collet-Serra
At 61-years-old and after a career of somber dramas, Liam Neeson has reinvented himself as an action hero. His latest and best post-Taken thriller, Non-Stop, sees the actor implementing his “particular set of skills” at 40,000 feet above the ground. While plane hijacking movies are nothing new, the filmmaker’s have shrewdly incorporated a whodunit aspect to set this one apart – not to mention that the hero of the movie is the one who hijacks the plane. The film works as both an Agatha Christie style murder mystery and a race against time thriller – and even though the plot is preposterous, Non-Stop is consistently entertaining.
As the film opens we meet Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), an alcoholic who needs a drink before he can muster up the courage to serve his duty as air marshal of an international flight from New York to London. It’s hinted that Bill has a sketchy past and this will obviously come into play later in the film. We also meet the other passengers on the plane, each character shadier than the next and we have reason to believe that anyone of them will wind up being the killer onboard.
Mid-flight, Bill receives an anonymous text message from someone on the plane threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a off-shore bank account. From here on out and as the title promises, the film delivers non-stop tension as to who the culprit is when the victims start piling up.
Movies set entirely in one location can be difficult to pull off but the clever screenplay provides enough characters and suspenseful situations to hold our interest. It’s the type of movie where you’ll play a guessing game along with Neeson’s character, trying to keep track of the clues and suspicious behavior by the passengers in the attempt to figure out the suspect. But between the constant twists and deaths of characters whom you might have pinned as the perpetrator – the movie does a great job of throwing off your theories.
Neeson is surrounded by a very solid supporting cast, but I’m remiss to get into the details of these characters as obviously one of them is the guilty party and you’re better off discovering their motives for yourself. Director Juame Collet-Serra who also directed the Neeson vehicle Unknown is adept at ramping up the suspense and keeping the movie swiftly paced.
This isn’t a particularly prestigious thriller as there are too many plot contrivances and the screenplay, while savvy, is also often silly. None of this is realistic, but it isn’t intended to be and it hardly matters with a film that is never less than entertaining. While there are some reveals towards the end that aren’t as conclusively satisfying as they could have been, they’re hard to predict nonetheless.
Neeson once again proves to be a formidable action hero and he gives some gravitas to his performance as an emotionally damaged/unstable protagonist. His behavior in trying to rescue the passengers is quite aggressive, often resulting in him ironically roughing most of them up. Credit is due for a sharp twist on an old formula as our good guy is responsible for hijacking the plane to save it. Due to the passenger’s obliviousness to the situation onboard and Neeson’s hostile behavior, most of the characters believe Neeson to be a bad guy which adds a mistaken identity feature to a movie already bursting with complicated story dynamics.
As far as Neeson’s recent resume goes, this is better than the overrated Taken and its inept sequel, as well as a step up from the mediocre Unknown. It’s both more story-driven than the frivolous Taken movies and more satisfying in developing intrigue than Unknown’s disappointing revelations.
Non-Stop is a fun thriller that showcases some slick writing and strong acting. Because it’s an exceedingly suspenseful potboiler and firmly intriguing, it’s easy to overlook the ludicrousness of it all. We’re not talking high-art here, but we are talking high-entertainment – and in the doldrums of the late-winter movie season, what more do you need?