Movie Review: Non-Stop
By Matthew Huntley
March 5, 2014
Liam Neeson is one of the most commanding and versatile actors around, and yet, over the past few years, he seems to be playing the same character over and over again. That’s not to say he isn’t good at it, or that he’s still not able to emit a strong screen presence, but for his sake, and for his fans, perhaps he can choose roles that run him less risk of being typecast. Believe it or not, he possesses the skills to embody men that aren’t just over-the-hill, disgruntled action heroes.
But that’s exactly what he plays – again - in Non-Stop, another high-concept thriller in which a lonely, cynical law enforcement agent suddenly finds himself caught up in an unbelievable situation. Neeson’s character, Bill Marks, is a United States Federal Air Marshal on a flight from New York to London. Shortly after takeoff, at which point we see that Marks has an inherent fear of flying, he receives a disturbing text message on his supposedly secure network. The unknown sender tells him that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a Swiss bank account.
One of the catches is the suspect is somewhere on the plane and he’s watching Marks. He knows, for instance, the marshal just snuck into the lavatory to have a cigarette (and goes on to advise him this is a federal offense). The other catch is the bank account number is in Marks’ name, which draws suspicion from the plane’s crew, including the captain (Linus Roache), co-captain (Jason Butler Harner) and head flight attendant, Nancy (Michelle Dockery), all of whom know Marks and trust him. But when random people really do start dying every 20 minutes, they start to think that Marks, an alcoholic prone to stress and anger, might be taking the plane hostage.
Nevertheless, Marks enlists Nancy and another female passenger, Jenn (Julianne Moore), to help him pinpoint where the suspect might be sitting. He has them read the manifest and circle anyone on the security cameras using a cell phone when he sends and receives text messages. He tries to carry this out while avoiding unnecessary panic and conflict from the other people on-board, who are, of course, a collection of colorful individuals from just about every race and background. There’s even a six-year-old girl (Quinn McColgan) who, wouldn’t you know, reminds Marks of his own deceased daughter and to whom he gives his lucky blue bracelet (it goes without saying this will play a sentimental part later on).
Once Non-Stop has its setup in order, it more or less proceeds along standard thriller lines, and for anyone who’s seen Neeson’s other recent thrillers (the Taken films, Unknown), Non-Stop feels even more standard. In fact, you could probably take the characters he played in those films and swap him out with Bill Marks, or vice versa, and the result would essentially be the same.
But even on its own, which is how any film should be judged, Non-Stop is a mostly silly, over-the-top and underwhelming ride. The action scenes and plot twists are all of the stock Hollywood variety and proved to be ineffectual, predictable and, surprisingly, rather dull. Even the sensational climax (and I’m not giving away too much given the premise and setting), in which the plane must make an emergency landing, felt trite and perfunctory. It’s as if the movie’s three screenwriters borrowed the plot and structure right out of a screenwriting 101 book, including the ending’s patronizing and cheesy dialogue.
In spite of all this, I’ll continue to support and admire Liam Neeson as an actor. After all, he’s not the problem with Non-Stop; it’s the hackneyed plot and lack of innovation that let us down. Still, before Neeson was this generation’s senior badass, he had a well-rounded repertoire, and after this movie, I’m hoping he stops fast in his tracks and chooses to take a break from his current signature role and add diversity and range back into the mix. We all know he’s capable.