Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Non-Stop is an action mystery-thriller released in 2014 and is directed by Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra. It features Liam Neeson as a troubled US Air Marshal forced into action on a flight after receiving a text message warning. It is the latest in a long line of action movies featuring Neeson ever since 2008's Taken became a worldwide smash hit. Despite mixed reviews, the film still managed to top the box office upon release and went on to take over $220 million on a budget of just $50 million. As an action movie, it is lifted by Neeson's presence but it loses its way in the final third when the plot holes start to rack up and logic is jettisoned from the picture.
What's it about?
Bill Marks is an alcoholic US Air Marshal, who transferred from the New York Police Department after being discharged. He is assigned to a non-stop flight from New York to London alongside his colleague Jack Hammond but mid-way over the Atlantic, Bill receives a text message via his secure phone which states that unless $150 million is transferred to a specific bank account, someone on the plane will die every twenty minutes.
With no obvious suspect, Marks realises that he has to suspect everyone on the plane - from the redheaded woman sat next to him, Jen, to Hammond himself. As time ticks away, Bill realises that this is no ordinary heist - the account is in his name and the news channels acquire footage of Bill treating the passengers aggressively. As US fighter jets rush out to intercept the plane, can Bill solve the mystery before any more passengers die?
William "Bill" Marks
Jen Summers, passenger
Nancy Hoffman, flight attendent
Gwen Lloyd, flight attendent
Zack White, passenger
Capt. David McMillan, pilot
John W. Richardson, Chris Roach & Ryan Engle *
Release Date (UK)
28th February, 2014
Action, Mystery, Thriller
What's to like?
For once, the lack of action is actually pretty encouraging. The mystery at the heart of the film takes a fair bit of solving but rarely does it require violence - a sign that the script is strong enough to resist such tactics. And it is a great script - as Neeson's desperation gets the better of him, you're still never entirely sure who is the guilty party. Neeson can deliver when it come to quiet authority figures and he's at his best strolling around the plane, eying up passengers like a farmer looking for his turkey at Christmas. He's ably supported by Moore as the bewildered passenger sat beside him and Dockery as his flight attendant friend who begins to suspect Marks' alcoholism might have actually got the better of him.
The film has a claustrophobic feel to it as it is mostly set entirely on the plane. But this is more than a simple clone of Die Hard on a plane - the film is well-presented and directed and it has a classy feel to it. I liked the text messages appearing on the screen as dialogue bubbles, meaning that the film's plot could easily be followed and understood without the quick glance at an old Nokia screen. And when the action does arrive, it too feels well-produced - the fights and gun battles may have a slight touch of fantasy about them (I don't imagine it's possible to kill someone in an aeroplane bathroom without passengers outside noticing) but they strive to feel Taken-esque and they broadly do.
- Due to Neeson's 6'4" height, an actual plane couldn't be used to shoot the movie. Therefore, a set had to be built which could accommodate him.
- Moore is a big fan of TV period drama Downton Abbey and would frequently pester co-star Michelle Dockery, who stars in Downton Abbey for secrets and spoilers between takes!
- This is a rare film where Neeson's natural Irish accent is explained. Indeed, the news report states that Neeson's character was born in Northern Ireland, which Neeson himself was.
What's not to like?
Action fans might be disappointed that it isn't more trigger-happy but when Non-Stop gets fed up of being a thriller and decides to go nuts, it sadly wanders off into near-parody. The ending of the film feels badly written, badly thought-out and completely at odds with the rest of the film. Instead of clinging on to the tension, it throws it out and settles on being a ridiculous excuse for Neeson to save the plane over and over again until everybody is forced to take the brace position. The story, which worked so hard for the first hour, runs out of steam and becomes riddled with plot-holes, inconsistencies and improbable coincidences. Non-Stop becomes a near total farce towards the end, so much so that I was beginning to wonder whether the late Leslie Nielsen would pop up and make a cameo, telling Neeson not to call him Shirley.
It's such a shame that Non-Stop runs out of fuel because up to that point, it was a tense and thrilling mystery that you couldn't tell where it was going. In may ways, it reminded me of another earlier film directed by Collet-Serra with Neeson at the helm - the Berlin-set amnesia thriller Unknown. It too had a decent mystery at its core before getting tired of all the secrecy and descending into well-travelled waters and alas, they've made the exact same mistake here. Non-Stop may be a bit smarter than you might have thought but in the end, it's just a mask. The real film is actually a drooling idiot.
Should I watch it?
Tough one. I would just about say "probably" - Neeson does just enough to save this from being a complete flop, giving the film a genuine intrigue that it might have lacked in less experienced hands. The story can't maintain its promising pace, instead deciding to become an excuse for set piece after set piece and continually upping the ante until your interest has been exhausted. It's an OK film but really, with a bit more effort, it could have been so much better.
Great For: people who forgive easily, Liam Neeson fans
Not So Great For: mystery lovers, people who don't like flying
What else should I watch?
There is a reason why Taken revitalised Neeson's career - it's an enthralling and brutal revenge thriller with enough action to justify its threadbare plot. After seeing it, you'll never quite look at the actor in the same way again.
What about if you wanted a film that had brains to go with the brawn, as Non-Stop might have suggested? I would probably say Inception which is a real mind-messer of a film but still has enough action sequences to take your breath away like the zero-gravity gun fight in a hotel corridor. For a superhero twist on things, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy are some of the finest films made this century so far, even if they are a little dark - coincidentally, the first film Batman Begins also stars Neeson. Or how about the original action hero James Bond - Skyfall might get just as silly sometimes but it has everything you could ever want in a action film and let's be honest, Daniel Craig's much better looking than Liam Neeson...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox