(M) Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o
Liam Neeson is a terrific actor who has been in some really wonderful films. But at some point in the last decade, despite being on the other side of fifty, he has made an unlikely transition into being an action hero, a kind of contemporary Clint Eastwood. The upside of being a recognised movie action hero is that he can pay the bills by doing paint-by-numbers thrillers, of which Non-Stop, which sees him reunite with director Juame Collet-Serra from Unknown, is definitely one.
Neeson plays US Air Marshall Bill Marks, a burned-out alcoholic who is on a routine flight from New York to London when he starts receiving a series of text messages threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a secret, off-shore account. With the lives of 200 passengers in his hands, Marks has to determine which one of them is the culprit, preferably without causing a state of panic 40,000 feet above the ground.
Setting a thriller on an aeroplane mid-flight creates an interesting variation on the Agatha Christie formula which sees our key players – the detective and all of the potential suspects – confined to one location for the duration of the story. From the very outset of the film, before we know what is about to unfold, some clever camerawork from cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano creates suspicion of every character we encounter. Likewise, before it is even revealed that Bill is an Air Marshall we know that he is a watcher of people. It is through his gaze that we notice little details about the passengers around him.
As the narrative progresses, with its countless red-herrings, there are moments in which you are genuinely hooked into this mystery. This cat-and-mouse scenario creates some legitimate tension, and Non-Stop looks like being a basically enjoyable, if largely generic, thriller. But then it steps into the ludicrous. Like a plane with serious engine failure, this film plummets in its final third. The final reveal is disappointing, due in part to the sheer ridiculousness of the motives at play – the hijacker is the last in a long number of characters in the film who share needlessly elaborate, and in this case nonsensical, backstories. But surely the point at which this film completely descends into farce is when a moment of anti-gravity caused by the free-falling plane righting itself sees a gun that was lying on the floor levitate in front of our hero at the opportune moment for him to grab it and fire. I’m not sure the 50-50 split between groans and laughter is the audience reaction that the filmmakers were hoping for.
Even though Neeson is clearly going through the motions, he, like the rest of a surprisingly quality cast, struggles valiantly against some sub-standard material and manages to give more than it deserves. Ultimately though, Non-Stop fails to live up to the potential of what could have been quite a fun premise.