At the age of 61, Liam Neeson has become one of our biggest action stars. Talk about an industry-defying career resurgence.
Neeson, who previously was known mostly as a sagely character actor, headlines Non-Stop as US Air Marshall Bill Marks.
Marks isdepressed, showing self-destructive behavior such as drinking before his flight and smoking in the plane’s lavatory. And yes, I
know people commonly drink before flying, but I would imagine it’s not encouraged for on-duty federal marshals.
While over the middle of the Atlantic, Marks begins receiving text messages from an unknown sender threatening to kill a passenger every
20 minutes unless $150 million is wired into a provided bank account number.
Marks alerts his superiors, but when the account number turns out to be in his own name, and passengers begin dropping dead around
him, he becomes a suspected terrorist orchestrator of the disaster he is trying to prevent.
Viewing the film’s trailer (Which gives away more than it should), I thought the whole setup sounded gimmicky. In execution, however, the
concept really works well. It plays into the fears of air travel following 9/11, and the claustrophobic isolation is the perfect setup for the
prototypical murder mystery.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Who also directed Neeson in 2011’s Unknown) does an outstanding job setting up the film’s intrigue and
suspense. Text messages are stylishly superimposed into the frame, scrolling and moving in and out of focus. It’s the best use of text
messages in film that I can recall.
Collet-Serra also refuses to be confined by the setting’s tight quarters, showcasing a few instances of creative camerawork, such as a
tracking shot that follows Marks from the outside of the aircraft, moving through windows from exterior to interior seamlessly.
These elements may not heighten the claustrophobic nature of the plot, but they do work well. The film also never cuts away from the flight
itself, maintaining the sense of tension and isolation.
Although it utilizes modern technology and settings, Non-Stop is very much a classical whodunit, with Marks trying desperately to find the
culprit before they strike again. The film succeeds where many others in the genre fail by carefully setting up its supporting cast without
ever showing its hand and telegraphing the killer.
Through its first two acts, Non-Stop is a consistently engaging, taut thriller with an intriguing, flawed central character. But as thestory’s
web of mystery unravels, so too does the film. The motivation behind the entire plot is random and unsatisfying, and the final sequences
resort to cheesy slow-motion action and a shallow, cliché conclusion.
The film doesn’t so much deflate as it pops, instantly disappointing with its ultimate revelation, cheapening everything that came before it.
In a way, I’m reminded of Neeson’saction hit, Taken, which sidestepped the seriousness of its material by tacking on a totally out of place
Hollywood ending. I suppose Non-Stop isn’t quite as inappropriate, but it fizzles out even more spectacularly considering the entire film is
founded on the mystery behind it.
With a strong conclusion, Non-Stop would have been an easy recommendation. Neeson is good as always, and the rest of the cast is also
strong (Including a fun supporting role for Julianne Moore as a quirky passenger). Collet-Serra showcases a great sense of pacing, as well
as some nice camerawork along the way.
Despite collapsing in its final sequences, Non-Stop still makes for an entertaining film. For suspense/thriller fans, it’s still worth checking
out, but it can only be given a reserved recommendation for everyone else.
* * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach
and Ryan Engle
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy,
Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll
Music by: John Ottman
Cinematography by: Flavio Martínez Labiano
Released: February 28, 2014; 106 Minutes