It’s mildly curious to note that in recent years, Liam Neeson’s nearly always promoted as being the star of Taken, rather than say, Schindler’s List or any other acclaimed dramatic roles. His late career reinvention as an action star was no fluke though, and he’s been sticking with it practically ever since. Audiences have been more than willing to accept him, and the now 61 year-old has emerged as quite possibly the biggest name in the recent ‘geri-action’ trend. Who’d have thunk it?
For his latest hard-man role, Neeson re-teams with Jaume Collet-Serra, director of 2011’s Unknown. This time, a grizzled Neeson plays the unimaginatively named Bill Marks, an ex-cop turned federal air marshal. He’s not a happy man, he’s seen drinking before boarding the flight, and finding sneaky ways to have a smoke while on it. Unfortunately for him, he soon starts receiving text messages demanding that unless $150 million is paid; one passenger is going to die every 20 minutes. What will Liam do?
Despite its gun-blasting poster, Non-Stop isn’t too heavy on the action sequences, aiming to gain most of its tension from text message conversations that appear on screen (at a rate much faster than someone could likely type them in real life). It gets a lot out of its confined setting though, like squeezing a fight scene into an airplane bathroom, and it avoids simply being ‘Die Hard on a plane’ (that was done in the nineties as Passenger 57), setting itself up as a kind-of whodunit. In this aspect it doesn’t work so well, anyone could be a suspect yes, but it’s also possible the person responsible isn’t even on the plane at all. We only get a chance to know a handful of those on board, primarily a friendly passenger seated next to Neeson played by Julianne Moore, and a stewardess who knows he’s a marshal (Michelle Dockery).
The film throws numerous red-herrings at you, none of which are particularly clever but for the most part, the first two thirds or so of the film more-or-less deliver on the premise. Neeson and Moore are two actors far above the material, and Lupita Nyong’o has a very small role that the now-Oscar winner was clearly cast in before all the hype surrounding her appeared.
Around its mid-point, the status of Neeson’s character enters into a potentially interesting new angle that I didn’t know prior, so won’t reveal here but is apparently in the trailers. It’s a shame to learn they’ve marketed the film that way as it’s one the film could have really done something with. As the final reveal approaches, Non-Stop scuppers any chance of being inventive. The motivations behind the villain’s actions are astoundingly poor, and the methods used for taking out hostages totally hackneyed. While I didn’t honestly think it was actually going to go there, I did think Non-Stop really had a chance of doing something interesting with its conclusion (I can’t really explain why without spoiling it), but instead gives us one as shabbily generic as they come.