Movie Review: Non-Stop (2014)
by Alan F. Zundel
Now this is how to do an action/suspense movie! “Non-Stop” may not transcend the genre, but it is a superior entry into the ranks. It’s non-stop suspense all the way to an action-packed finish.
Liam Neeson’s surprising second career as an action hero, beginning with the first of the “Taken” series in 2008, is propelled further by this one. He is perfect for the part.
You know his character within the first two wordless minutes. Rugged-looking but with a face as sad as a child’s funeral, he sits in a car swilling liquor and staring out into the rain. This is the flawed hero who is about to be tested by impossible circumstances. Can he rise to the occasion?
Of course he can! No suspense there. The suspense is in how he will do it, and how the trial he undergoes will affect him.
The man, Bill Marks, enters an airport wearily, preoccupied. Within several more minutes we are introduced to most of the other key characters, each given an individual personality despite brief moments of screen time in the airport.
They all end up on the same trans-oceanic flight to London, with Marks one of two undercover air marshals aboard. While entering the plane Marks shows a tender side when he calms a fearful little girl who is flying for the first time, another key moment to ground the audience’s sympathy for him.
As soon as they are in the air strange things start happening. Marks receives a mysterious text message on his secure phone threatening that a passenger will die in twenty minutes unless he arranges to have $150 million dollars sent to a particular bank account.
Marks suspects the other air marshal is playing with him and confronts him in the lavatory. They get into an argument and Marks is forced to kill the other marshal in self-defense, right at the threatened twenty-minute deadline.
Already shaken by what happened, he is even more shaken when he gets another text message threatening another person will die in another twenty minutes. The sender was not the man he just killed!
The plot is corny and stretches credibility at every turning point, but convinces the audience to ignore all that because by now they are engaged with the hero and curious as to how he will solve his predicament. There is of course another death and then yet another as Marks tries desperately to figure out who is behind it and how to stop him—or her.
His suspicion of the various passengers turns from one possibility to another even as the passengers and crew are being manipulated to believe Marks is the terrorist. Tension ratchets up as he gets more and more enmeshed in the net of mutual suspicions.
The pilot dies, Marks is relieved of his duties, his few allies are turning against him, his flawed past is revealed to the whole world—he is having a really bad day! Of course it culminates with the obligatory ticking time bomb, which is impossible to defuse without blowing up the plane.
The whole thing goes way over the top but I had fun watching and waiting for the next incredible complication to be dumped on poor Marks. Neeson carries the weight of the nonsensical situation with grace, and it was pure pleasure watching him fight to redeem himself and save the innocent passengers.
Screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle do a nice job freshening up the classic “people being picked off one-by-one in an enclosed setting” mystery plot, and director Jaume Collet-Serra gets the pacing just right.
All of the supporting actors register as distinct types playing off one another and keeping things interesting. Julianne Moore provides Marks’ main ally as well as a potential love interest; Michelle Dockery is a sympathetic flight attendant who begins to lose faith in him; Nate Parker is the guy with a programming skills that both help and put him under suspicion; Corey Stoll is a passenger/police officer who voices the distrust passengers have of Marks; Scoot McNairy is a geeky guy who can’t be trusted—they all get into the proper spirit of the movie.
So if you like this kind of movie—and I do, if it is well done—you will love this one. It is the plane ride from hell that in the back of your mind you always fear is coming up when you board one of those metal tubes that shoots you into the air.