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Non-Stop (2014)

Non-StopDIRECTOR:  Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Anson Mount, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache

REVIEW:

Non-Stop is a bit like a souped-up Hitchcock thriller, with occasional action scenes tossed in so modern audiences won’t get bored waiting for the diabolical premise to unfold.  To that end, it generates enough suspense to distract us from plot holes (something Hitchcock himself wasn’t always above).  It’s not a great thriller, but it’s compulsively watchable and keeps us wanting to see how things wrap up without letting us be sure of that until the climax.

Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a glum alcoholic on a transatlantic flight bound for London.  Marks is already a broken man, but his day is about to get far worse.  During the flight, someone starts messaging him over the air marshal’s secure channel, threatening to kill one passenger every 20 minutes if $150 million is not wired to their bank account.  At first, Marks suspects his fellow air marshal (Anson Mount), but a check of his colleague’s phone proves it’s not him, which means the line has been hacked.  But by who?  No one is above Marks’ suspicion, not the increasingly uncooperative NYPD officer (Corey Stoll), or a man who chatted him up while waiting to board (Scott McNairy), not the flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), maybe not even the friendly woman sitting beside him (Julianne Moore), and as he seems to grow more paranoid by the minute, his fellow passengers question whether the only menace onboard might be Marks himself…especially when he learns that the bank account the hijacker is using is in his own name.  As bodies start to pile up and panic builds, Marks realizes he’s being set up to take the fall for everything, and with the clock ticking and no easy way off a plane tens of thousands of feet in the air over the Atlantic, can he unmask the villain before it’s too late?

The setting on a plane has obvious advantages and disadvantages.  On the one hand, Non-Stop does an effective job setting up the mystery, with a planeload of possible suspects, no easy way to escape the situation, and the creeping paranoia of scenes where Marks scans the dozen or so passengers on their phones at any given moment and uses a variety of clever methods to try to narrow down which one of them is communicating with him.  The movie ensures pretty much everyone onboard looks suspicious at some point or another, and while the villain’s identity isn’t a complete surprise (I had it narrowed down to three main suspects, one of which was correct), it’s not the two most obvious candidates, and even the reveal throws in a twist.  The movie also avoids at least one predictable twist.  The villain’s motive might be a little controversial to some viewers, but it’s at least a little original.  On the other hand, like any confined setting (think Red Eye), the places it can go are limited.  The movie breaks this up with a couple lavatory tussles, and, predictably, a bomb hidden onboard, but overall, the emphasis is more on the slow-burn building paranoia than Liam Neeson getting in sporadic Taken-style smackdowns.

Liam Neeson, who at his age might have seemed an unlikely action hero before unleashing a prodigious can of whoop-ass in Taken and subsequently reprising the role twice, starts out here almost as if the role might have been originally written for Bruce Willis, looking haggard and depressed and drinking before boarding his flight.  But the reliable presence of Neeson automatically leads the audience to view Marks as a good guy even if the script spends the first few minutes establishing him as a cranky alcoholic and chain-smoker (although it does toss in a cute scene with a little girl to remove any doubt that he’s a curmudgeon with a heart of gold).  “Everything you’ve heard about me is true!  I’m not a good man!  But I’m trying to save this plane!” Neeson snarls at one point as part of a gruff, very Liam Neeson-esque monologue late in the film.  Other than Neeson, the supporting cast is mostly low-profile, with the exception of Julianne Moore, who plays the chatty woman who befriends Marks in the next seat.  Some viewers might recognize other faces, like Downtown Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery as the lead flight attendant, Linus Roache (Law & Order‘s Michael Cutter and Batman’s dad in Batman Begins) as the captainand Lupita Nyong’o in a bit part as another flight attendant.  Whether or not you recognize Nyong’o probably depends on whether you view this before or after her considerably more attention-grabbing role in 12 Years a Slave (Non-Stop was released after 12 Years a Slave, but filmed before Nyong’o became a recognizable name and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner).

Non-Stop is the kind of movie that’s solidly diverting in the moment, but doesn’t leave a deep impression a few days later.  It’s disposable suspense/action thriller material, with an intriguing premise and some twists and turns.  That’s not really a criticism; the movie is what it is, and there’s nothing wrong with a serviceable, if ultimately forgettable action flick to pass a couple hours sometimes.

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