The action thriller Non-Stop is delicious fun wrapped up in 20-minute morsels of mayhem.
We love us some Liam Neeson. From Schindler's List and Batman Begins to The Grey, Neeson's been a rock-steady diet on our movie menu for more than two decades. But in the last few years, the actor who we first enjoyed in Excalibur has been a hurting soul. After the death of his wife in 2011, Neeson has thrown himself into his work, producing memorable fare that's also shed a greater light on what it means to lose someone close due to tragedy. His newest film Non-Stop wraps a genuinely good performance with enough high-altitude madness to make us reconsider flying First Class.
When US Air Marshall Bill Marks (Neeson) learns of a diabolical effort to murder passengers aboard a non-stop flight to London, he must root out the suspect before the clock ticks 20 minutes. The suspect has promised Marks that someone will meet a terrible end every 20 minutes until they receive a $150 million ransom. But finding them won't be easy, as the suspect has considered every angle, forcing Marks and the passengers into a deadly standoff. As the clock counts down, Marks must use all of his assets, including the unsuspecting Jen (Julianne Moore), who herself is a passenger running out of time.
Non-Stop is not your average action-thriller - oh sure, there's the unbelievable climax that seems to be in every Neeson cheap flick of late, taking back a bit of the credit we've given it along the way. But there's also tenderness and regret in Neeson's performance, almost as if this particular version of himself has been deep asleep, waiting for a chance to come out. From the opening scene, we can feel the cloud over Bill as he takes a slug of liquor from a coffee cup, almost as if the loss of his real-life wife Natasha Richardson is still forefront on his mind. Later, we learn just how distraught our hero is, increasing our appreciation for his character even more when one of the many twists from Writers John W. Richardson and Christopher Roach arrives to smack us in the face. It's a smart script, filled with just enough comedic interludes while moving the plot forward with sharp dialogue to keep the tension up. Our creative team keeps us guessing at the suspects, including Marks himself. But it's those 20-minute countdowns that really establish the film's heart, wrapping us into its diabolical web of lies and deceit, before someone else dies and the process starts all over. There's also a pretty stinging commentary on the role of the press in the 24-hour news cycle, but you'll almost miss that as Bill and the rest of the crew conflict, conspire, and ultimately work together to save the plane.
But the script also works in small ways as well. As the passengers and crew descend into chaos, Bill is the rock-steady Marshall who also admits his faults in an impressive Mea Culpa, and his relationship with a young flier instantly transforms the broken father into a kind-hearted one. Neeson takes these duties on like a pro, also serving up a couple of brutal action pieces, particularly in one of the small restrooms. Director Jaume Collet-Serra picks the one area of the plane to make the most impact, instantly establishing it as one of the best fight pieces ever, due entirely to the cramped spaces. He also brings out the best aspects of the veteran Moore, letting her and Neeson accuse before bringing her story to the forefront in a decent and honorable way. Also, check out the way Collet-Serra uses text messages and plane-themed visuals to great effect. Composer John Ottman's compact score also has its pretty moments, and it's an enjoyable heartbeat to a story that's well-executed on many levels.
Non-Stop isn't an award winner by far, as its climax really forces us to make some assumptions about explosives and the chances of an aircraft actually being able to set down without tearing itself apart from the force. But those issues are forgivable and ultimately aren't the center of the story anyways. This is a pretty well-built courtroom action thriller set at 30,000 feet, with a bad guy whose motives aren't entirely based on money.
Surprising on many levels, Non-Stop is better than Taken by a long-shot. Neeson breathes real regret into this one, but the brutality of key moments and strong supporting performances are also worth mentioning. This is a definite opening day To-Do, so long as you suspend reality going in - you'll thank yourself for exhibiting such ignorance. Non-Stop is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references, and has runtime of 106 minutes.
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