Review: Non-Stop (2014)


Non-Stop is another ridiculous, entertaining addition to the Liam Neeson action hero phase. Its plot is ludicrous. Liam Neeson plays a Federal Air Marshal and on his trans-Atlantic flight, a mysterious villain appears on his messaging network threatening to kill one passenger every 20 minutes until he’s paid $150 million. Neeson goes about trying to uncover the villain, who he believes to be a passenger on board the plane, and the situation deteriorates into frequent airplane bathroom brawls, bomb scares and zero gravity gunfights.

As I said, ludicrous stuff, but we don’t go see these kinds of movies for realism. They operate in their own realm of believability and if they have enough wit and panache, they succeed. In fact, these types of admittedly-ludicrous plots often afford filmmakers opportunities to hide social or political commentary amidst B-movie ass kicking.

With Non-Stop, director Jaume Collet-Serra and writers John Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle use the confined setting and hijacking scenario to say some interesting things about the world’s current security climate and how we suspect strangers in an emergency. Almost the entirety of the film is confined to the plane so the passengers, including Liam Neeson’s Bill Marks, lack context for the actions that occur in their midst.

When Bill describes the increasingly unbelievable situation to his superiors via sat-phone, they begin to suspect him of orchestrating the antics. They aren’t on board the plane, witnessing what Bill is, so they don’t have the information to make a proper assessment. Similarly, Bill doesn’t understand the larger context occurring in the world outside the airplane. He doesn’t think about how irrational his actions seem when a passenger idly records him searching passengers and posts it to the Internet.

Non-Stop shows how important context is in emergencies. It also displays how individuals, the government, and the media act on conjecture and misinformation, favouring suspicion for trust and aggression for cooperation. It’s no wonder the passengers on the plane don’t respond encouragingly to Bill’s frantic attempts to maintain order and uncover the villain. In our modern world, no one is meant to trust anyone else, especially not in life-and-death situations. But I don’t want to belabour the more intellectual commentary hiding within Non-Stop.
The film’s main pleasure is its filmmaking fireworks and Liam Neeson’s dependable
badassery. But the commentary is there, so to dismiss Non-Stop as nothing but dumb fun is missing the point a little.

At least you don’t have to dissect the film’s themes to enjoy it. The filmmaking is crisp and the action is dependable. Working in a confined space is no easy feat, but Collet-Serra adapts to it well and commands the spatial orientation of the action onscreen. As well, he adopts the conceit of having text messages appear as word bubbles on the screen, popularized by Sherlock and House of Cards. But instead of just mimicking how these other shows display texts, he has fun with the conceit, giving it an original twist. When Bill’s phone cracks, the message bubbles display with a crack down the middle. When Bill looks away from his phone, the bubble goes out of focus. The texts are integral to the film and Collet-Serra uses them well.

Along with the action, Neeson is the film’s main draw, but the supporting cast is
impressive as well. It includes Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll and Lupita Nyong’o—some of the best character actors working today. Their characters vary in importance and depth, but their considerable acting skills go a long way to making the film better. When the film descends into awesome gunfights and panicked climaxes, they’re the sturdy foundation the filmmakers can depend upon.

Non-Stop even has the charm of operating on Scooby-Doo logic, but because it’s crafted so well, you miss the forest for the trees and genuinely cannot guess the identity of the villain until the closing minutes of the film. At its heart, Non-Stop is a classic whodunit, like a good Agatha Christie story. Its plot doesn’t tackle new ground, and the motivations of its villains would have been better left unsaid, but Non-Stop is deft filmmaking and impressively entertaining.

7 out of 10

Non-Stop (2014, France/USA/UK)

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; written by John W. Richardson & Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle, from a story by Richardson & Roach; starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o, Anson Mount.

This review was originally published at the now-defunct The Rooster.