Non-Stop Review

rating: 3

Liam Neeson has the kind of voice that commands authority. Even when he's not threatening someone, everything he says sounds threatening. His intense delivery helps give his characters an added sense of credibility no matter how over-the-top they are. Take a look at his character in Non-Stop, for example. Throughout the movie, whenever he suspects someone of being a terrorist, he goes way overboard in his actions despite his lack of proof. As the movie's plot developments continue to complicate matters, Neeson's character constantly looks to be on the verge of a complete meltdown, yet he somehow manages to pull himself together and save the day. And, in a sense, he saves the movie as well. In fact, Neeson's character almost feels like a metaphor for the movie itself. Non-Stop is a movie that wants to keep its cards close to its chest, slowly revealing its secrets as it goes along. It gets to the point where the movie starts to fold under the weight of its own deception, but like Neeson's character, it manages to pull enough tricks from its sleeve in order to save itself. When Non-Stop gets dumb, it gets really dumb, but it still manages to be fun at the same time. This is a fairly standard thriller with a plot we've seen many times before, but the movie has just enough thrills to make it enjoyable.
Neeson plays Bill Marks. When we first meet Bill, he's already arrived at the airport. We can see that he's an alcoholic and he's not exactly friendly to the people that he encounters. Soon, we find out that he's a US air marshal as he boards a non-stop flight from NYC to London. When he starts getting screwy text messages from a random stranger on the plane, Bill Marks makes it clear that he has no time for games. Except, this is no game. This unknown passenger threatens to kill someone on board the flight every twenty minutes unless he receives $150 million. At first, Bill does his best to keep things together as he attempts to find the culprit, but the further Bill plays into the terrorist's mind games, the more people start to accuse Bill of hijacking the plane himself. This is the type of film that relies heavily on twists and turns to keep things exciting. And while there's nothing about Non-Stop that's particularly surprising, a very strong cast definitely helps to make it all worthwhile. There are solid performances across the board, starting with Julianne Moore, whose character is forced to sit next to the air marshal. We also have welcome appearances from Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong'o, and Nate Parker.
After his buzzworthy performance in the Netflix series, House of Cards, Corey Stoll has become a hot commodity as of late. In Non-Stop, he once again demonstrates his talents by playing a hot-headed, off-duty New York City police officer who does not like dealing with the antics of an erratic air marshal. What makes the character work is his willingness to help Bill even after they get into fisticuffs. Along with McNairy and Moore, Corey Stoll is able to add enough touches to his character to make him feel layered. He does not have a great amount of screentime, but if you've ever seen his performance as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight In Paris, then you know how memorable he can be without ever overdoing it. But what Liam Neeson has to do is much tougher. Bill Marks is not exactly a three-dimensional character nor is he particularly likable. He comes across as a "punch first, ask questions later" type person, which does not seem to be the right attitude for an air marshal. It's also hard to believe that Marks's superiors would be so hesitant to take the terrorist's threats seriously. They treat Bill's text messages like it's the work of a prankster, as if this is an everyday occurrence in the air marshal profession. These types of contrivances makes it difficult to go with the film at first, but because Liam Neeson has such a commanding on-screen presence, it makes all the contrivances go down more smoothly. Still, there are moments in the film where Neeson's character starts feeling like a parody of other recent "tough guy" characters that Neeson has played. It's hard not to laugh while watching him perform random searches on the plane, roughing up suspected criminals. At a certain point, everyone on the plane starts to talk to him as if he's crazy, and honestly, it's hard to blame them. It's difficult to tell at times whether the director wants Neeson to play crazy or misunderstood and he often strikes an uneasy balance between the two. One wrong move or line of dialogue could completely derail the film and it's a testament to Liam Neeson's abilities that no derailment ever takes place.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra previously worked with Liam Neeson in 2011's Unknown and it seems the two have really managed to click the second time around. Collet-Serra deserves as much credit as Liam Neeson for taking a potentially problematic script and elevating it with great actors and thrilling action sequences. The final confrontation between Neeson and the villain was pulled off remarkably well and the filmmakers did a great job of raising the stakes and delivering the thrills right when they needed to. There is a moment towards the end, involving Neeson, that's so damn ridiculous and cliche that it actually works. It's a moment that asks the audience, "who cares if this doesn't make sense, aren't you having fun right now?" And for many of you, the answer will be a resounding yes.
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Ken writes movie reviews on his blog, kenoncinema.blogspot.com. He currently resides in New York City. Twitter: @keng324