Non-Stop is about as good a February-release thriller as you could ask for (Side Effects is much better, but an anomaly in that regard); it’s brisk, it holds your attention, it doesn’t make too many leaps of logic–a few, yes, but I was never taken out of the story by them. Liam Neeson anchors it with a smoothly professional performance, Jaume Collet-Serra directs it well, and in most respects it quite lives up to the modest promise of the trailer.
U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) is a troubled man; sitting in his car at the airport, he pours whiskey into his coffee and stirs it with a toothbrush. As he heads through the airport, we seen the acute, almost paranoid notice he takes of everyone and everything around him. His assignment is routine; protect a flight between NYC and London. Once on the plane, he begins receiving mysterious texts (all the more troubling since his phone is on a secure network), threatening to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if $150 million isn’t wired to a specific account.
Soon it becomes clear that the extorter’s M.O. is to frame Marks for the crime–among other things, the target account is in Marks’ name. Despite skepticism from the passengers and his superiors (who assume the texts are a hoax), he begins searching the plane and passengers for evidence, but the body count begins to mount, the passengers threaten to rebel, and passenger-made videos reach the media, leading everyone–even Marks’ superiors–to believe that he really is the hijacker.
I won’t spoil how the story resolves itself, since the little twists and turns of the story are what make Non-Stop enjoyable. Suffice to say that the script (by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle) keeps you guessing until almost the end, and even when the truth is discovered, there are, shall we say, other pressing manners to be dealt with. Although the Rotten Tomatoes consensus grouses about the “thoroughly unbelievable final act”, I accepted it without too much trouble. Maybe I was feeling undemanding, but I know a third act that ruins a film when I see it, and this was hardly one of them.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction, while not quite as stylish as it could be, keeps the potentially claustrophobic setting (after Marks gets on the plane, the film doesn’t leave it except for an exterior shot or two) from getting stale, and Flavio Martinez Labiano’s cinematography keeps the eye from wandering. The film is technically proficient, except for some mildly iffy CGI in exterior shots of the plane.
The cast is fine. Neeson has been doing this sort of material for years now, and if he’s weary of it, it doesn’t detract from his presence here as a bitter, weary man. It’s no feather in his cap, but his solid performance gives the film an appropriate grounding. Julianne Moore, second-billed, is a passenger who befriends Marks; one feels that Moore is slumming a touch, but she seems to be having fun. And yes, that is Lupita Nyong’o as one of the flight attendants, but hold on, Lupita fans; she doesn’t really do much in the film, though she does it well enough. Michelle Dockery has the more prominent attendant role, and she’s adequate, but undistinguished. Interestingly, another major role is played by Scoot McNairy, who was one of Solomon Northup’s kidnappers in 12 Years a Slave–and one of the hostages in Argo. Busy man. Small world. Anson Mount, Nate Parker, Linus Roache, and Corey Stoll round out the main cast, with Stoll making the best impression as a brutish NYPD officer. But all fill their roles effectively.
Non-Stop is an effective, efficient film. It treats you fairly, delivering suspense and action without making you jump through too many hoops. Is it memorable? Not especially. But it does its job. And for that, I give it a modest recommendation.