Liam Neeson is a celebrated actor. He’s been in epic romances, costumed adventures, and important historical dramas. Lately though he’s carved out a niche for himself as a slightly older action star. There’s only one reason why this works: Liam Neeson is great. The movies he’s making are kind of dumb, heavy handed, and full of plot holes, but for some reason they just kinda work. Taken is probably the first (and best) example of this. Non-Stop is just the latest.
Non-Stop begins with Liam Neeson’s Bill Marks drinking cheap whiskey in his car in really slow motion to establish that he is a clinically depressed, self loathing alcoholic. He then wanders through an airport having a fight with his boss on the phone until he gets on a plane to do his job: he’s an air marshall, and he hates flying.
Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.
After the flight is in the air Bill is contacted anonymously by one of the passengers who has hacked into his secure phone and is threatening to kill someone every 20 minutes unless 150$ million is deposited in a bank account. Bill naturally calls this in and it’s revealed that the account is his name, and now the TSA believes that he is a hijacker when in fact he’s working to try to save the plane. What comes next is a fun game of cat and mouse as Bill tries to figure out which of the 150 passengers is the bad guy.
The “which one of them is it?” mystery is set up with a slightly heavy hand as in the first ten minutes we get at least one very deliberate shot of each of the supporting cast members looking cagey, but from then on it’s the type of movie that you’d expect to fall into the totally ridiculously silly place but never quite gets there.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes a few interesting choices, the use of texting and messaging handled on screen is a technique that works when done well and it’s done well enough here, and he’s made some interesting little choices like making first class brighter to reflect the happier mood. Mostly though his greatest choice in this film is giving it a strong cast. This is most definitely a B movie but a B movie with a good cast becomes something pretty entertaining.
Neeson is a great actor and really does sell the character and elevate the movie. The supporting cast led by Julianne Moore and featuring the likes of Corey Stoll, 2014 Oscar Nominee Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, and Michelle Dockery keep up with him better than anyone did in Taken or The Grey too, which is a refreshing change. The supporting characters are mostly one-note characters but in the context of the story that works. There are only a handful of them and they need to stand out every time the camera pans by, giving them a single defining trait early on means you notice them when that happens.
And the mystery works pretty well too. I had a pretty good idea from the start who it might be, but the movie did misdirect me more than once, and it managed to incriminate, then clear, and then re-incriminate more than a few of the suspects without being frustrating or completely ridiculous even if he character set ups are pretty stock for this kind of mystery. Is it the flight attendant filling in at the last second? What about the overly helpful woman in the next seat over? What about the asshole in the security line?
It’s really only in the third act when things get a little over the top. When the hijacker is finally revealed there’s a monologue that made me have to suppress an audible groan as the reasons behind the hijacking are a little too on the nose with some of the concerns facing Americans today; the plan to deal with the inevitable explosives seems ridiculous (and I’d be curious if anyone in the airline industry could tell me if it’s legit), and some of the character moments are just a little too cliche.
Walking into Non-Stop I kind of expected to be either bored or to laugh at it. At the end I walked out entertained, having not been bored and having laughed with it. It’s schlock, but it’s entertaining schlock like Taken and The Grey before it.