Non-Stop (2014)

Posted by Joel Copling on February 28, 2014

When it all boils down, "Non-Stop" is surprisingly and organically about a man who must come to terms with his own flaws. It's surprising because this is a late-February action-thriller that capitalizes upon Liam Neeson's recent status as an unlikely action star (Seriously, does anyone remember his late-1999 "retirement" announcement?) following the success of 2009's "Taken." It's organic due to Neeson's performance--his best since 2012's "The Grey"--which pivots on strain, desperation, and pure emotion. It also helps that Ryan Engle, John W. Richardson, and Chris Roach's screenplay keeps twisting and turning and surprising, borrowing from Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Hitchcock, and in one immediately memorable sequence, the great Agatha Christie.

Neeson stars as Bill Marks, a U.S. Air Marshal and former NYPD officer who follows up ingestion of some sort of alcholic substance with his latest flight, this one to London. He's a sympathetic but short-tempered man--he returns a stuffed animal to a girl named Becca (Quinn McColgan) but tires quickly when another passenger, Zack (Nate Parker), obstinately talks on his phone instead of paying attention to the security process--with his own personal demons, baggage that he's deadly frightened of airing out in public. Soon into the flight, however, a series of texts (visualized rather cleverly) announcing that a person will die every twenty minutes startles and disturbs him. The sender's demand: One hundred and fifty million dollars must be placed into an account. If not, more will die.

This very simple premise isn't exactly a bevy of originality or complexity, but it's far from predictable or simplistic. The deaths come in unexpected and downright haunting ways, the first one depending on some extraordinary timing and another straight from the aforementioned Christie's oeuvre (specifically, her masterful Poirot tale "The Murder on the Orient Express"). Only the latter is an intentional targeting, and a third death--perhaps the most jarring of them--causes a pretty specific panic and "United 93"-esque attempt by the passengers to stop Marks, who has by then been labeled a terrorist who is hijacking the plane. The third act falters in its shoehorned motivations of the culprits--tied to the obvious national tragedy for an airplane-central thriller to tackle--but no matter: The getting-there is terrific fun.

And it helps that the screenplay has such a terrific director behind it in the form of Jaume Collet-Serra--whose previous collaboration with Neeson, 2011's "Unknown," ironically suffered from the inflated form of any problems had by this one--and a cinematographer by the name of Flavio Labiano whose intricate lensing is heavy with long takes, making the claustrophobic interior of a plane incredibly cinematic. The supporting cast is of help, too, with Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll as another NYPD officer, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, and recent Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o offering better support than is expected of this type of fare. "Non-Stop" might be ludicrous on its cover, but dig beyond the title page and there is a briskly intelligent homage to the masters of suspense here.

Film Information

Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen Summers), Scoot McNairy (Tom Bowen), Michelle Dockery (Nancy), Nate Parker (Zack White), Corey Stoll (Austin Reilly), Lupita Nyong'o (Gwen), Omar Metwally (Dr. Fahim Nasir), Jason Butler Harner (Kyle Rice), Linus Roach (David McMillan), Shea Whigham (Agent Marenick), Anson Mount (Jack Hammond), Quinn McColgan (Becca), Corey Hawkins (Travis Mitchell), Frank Deal (Charles Wheeler), Bar Paly (Iris Marianne), Edoardo Costa (Herve Philbert), Jon Abrahams (David Norton), Amanda Quaid (Emily Norton), Beth Dixon (Older Woman).

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Ryan Engle, John W. Richardson, and Chris Roach.

Rated PG-13 (intense action/violence, language, sensuality, drug references).

106 minutes.

Released on February 28, 2014.