The Good: Decent acting, Good pacing
The Bad: Very familiar plot/character structure
The Basics: Liam Neeson and a strong supporting cast make the very familiar elements of Non-Stop into a cinematic experience that is nonetheless enjoyable.
I wonder how Liam Neeson feels about being an action hero at his age. Having watched Neeson establish himself on films like The Mission (reviewed here!) and Schindler’s List (reviewed here!), it seems interesting that he changed the direction of his career (or allowed it to be changed). With his latest film, Non-Stop, he is once again playing more of an action hero than a cerebral character. Non-Stop is smarter than most hostage dramas or action thrillers, but it does degenerate into a pretty typical action movie.
The most refreshing aspect of Non-Stop is actually in how conventional it actually is. Early in the film, it appears like Non-Stop will change into a painfully predictable psychological thriller; Non-Stop has a man using a Blackberry-style smartphone and the early clues make it seem like it might be Bill himself orchestrating the threat to the plane he is on. Fortunately, Non-Stop is not an aerial Hide And Seek (reviewed here!) and the hero is appropriately heroic and the villains of the movie actually make enough sense to have orchestrated the events surrounding Bill Marks and the transatlantic flight.
Bill Marks is aboard a non-stop flight to London, drinking, and stressed. He is seated next to Jen, who is an incredibly calm woman who switches to take a window seat. At 10:53 P.M., Bill gets a text message over the plane’s secure network. The message reveals that there is someone aboard the plane (as they reference Bill going into the bathroom and smoking) who wants $150 million transferred to a specific account or someone on the plane will die in twenty minutes. Marks has to reveal himself as an air marshal when the threat is made and he enlists Jen and the flight attendant, Nancy.
Watching the footage of the video cameras, Bill realizes that the other air marshal, Jack Hammond, is the one making the extortion attempt. Confronting him, Bill has to kill the other marshal in order to incapacitate him. The TSA Agent back in the U.S., Marenick, relieves Bill of duty and has the pilot take away his badge and gun when it seems that the text messages Bill received were from an account in his name. Reviewing Hammond’s phone, Marks realizes that Hammond was being extorted for a briefcase full of cocaine he was transporting. Regrouping, Bill, Nancy, and Jen search for the extortionist before they can kill again.
Non-Stop takes its time getting going. The film works to establish Bill Marks well before he is revealed to be an air marshal. He seems like just a strung-out alcoholic who hates flying and has a little bit of a temper. But once in the air and menaced, Marks becomes a surprisingly sober, methodical investigator and it is easy to empathize with him. The film has several of the genre conceits; the plucky sidekick (Jen) and the obvious element that needs protecting (there is a little girl on the flight who Marks helps calm down and actually get on the plane), but the idea that there is a conspiratorial network as opposed to a single villain plays out well in Non-Stop.
On the acting front, it’s hard not to be thrilled to see Corey Stoll in something new. Stoll was a breakout performer in the first season of House Of Cards (reviewed here!) and Non-Stop uses his ability to play irritated and somewhat tormented well, while still giving him the chance to go deeper as Austin Reilly. Director Jaume Collet-Serra might focus the camera on Stoll in ways that immediately arouse the audience’s suspicion, but Stoll does a decent job of making Reilly interesting-enough on his own.
The film’s leads, Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore are solid as Bill Marks and Jen Summers, respectively. Neeson does fine as Marks, but he does not give the viewer anything they have not seen from him before. Similarly, we’re used to seeing Julianne Moore as smart, perceptive, collected characters, so Summers is no stretch for her, either. That said, the two leads are smart and gracious enough to give the supporting actors Scoot McNairy, Anson Mount, Michelle Dockery (who adds the realistic human element in the form of Nancy the flight attendant), Nate Parker, and Lupita Nyong’o the chance to shine and make their minor characters have a similar amount of depth in the world of Non-Stop as the leads. All of the characters feel like they fit into the world as Non-Stop presents it and the actors have a lot to do with making the one-dimensional characters seem deeper.
Non-Stop is not a great film or an overly original thriller, but it uses the familiar conceits well and in a way that does not insult the viewer’s intelligence, which is refreshing for a February film release!
For other action films, please check out my reviews of:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Never Say Never Again
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.