Liam Neeson has become the go-to asskicker of late. Even more so than Jason Statham, audiences have responded to Neeson’s world-weary charms and commanding presence. So it should be no surprise that Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop was a modest hit earlier this year. Neeson stars as air marshal Bill Marks, who is forced to act when he’s contacted on an international flight to deliver a $150 Million ransom or a passenger will die every twenty minutes. My review of Non-Stop follows after the jump.
The film starts by showing that Marks is a burnout, as it opens with him having a large covert drink and a smoke. As should be obvious because it’s a movie, the reason for his depression will be made evident during the film during a critical third act reveal. The film then introduces a number of the people on his flight. Before he boards he crosses paths with a fellow smoker who’s headed for Amsterdam (Scoot McNairy), and has an unpleasant encounter with a tech guy (Nate Parker). Then in the bathroom he gets talked to by Jack Hammond (Anson Mount), who it’s revealed is a fellow air marshal. Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) is an attractive woman, maybe too attractive, who wants to talk with Bill once they’re seated next to each other. Then there’s the stewardesses Nancy (Michelle Dockery) – who seems to have a personal relationship with one of the pilots that went south – and Gwen (Lupita Nyong’o), while there’s also the pilots and passengers like the hotheaded Austin (Corey Stoll) and the Middle Easterner Fahim (Omar Metwally).
When Marks is contacted by the extortionists he’s told he has twenty minutes to get the $150 Million or someone on the flight will die. But considering his work relationships are strained and he’s viewed as a burnout, he’s not taken as seriously as he would like, and when the twenty minutes are up, it turns out that it’s Bill who actually kills the first victim. As the flight is a transatlantic one there’s nowhere for the pilots to stop after a certain point, and so Bill must put the pieces together, and narrow down the suspect list, but in doing so he’ll need help from people he can’t be sure he trusts.
The fun of Non-Stop is the guessing game, and the film does a good job at making the plane claustrophobic without being too uncomfortable, nor does the audience feel bored with the locations. There’s a sense of the space, and the way the filmmaker navigates it is done well. There’s also Neeson’s character, who is a flawed protagonist with rough edges, and that’s played well. Even if the audience never holds him in suspicion, the film does a good job at making it understandable why others might think he’s ready to do something terrible. The film is also working with a great cast of supporting players, and though some red herrings are eliminated quicker than others (without getting too into spoilers, we live in a world where it would then never be Metwally’s character), but because there are enough suspects, it’s never boring. Often films like this get weighed down when it’s evident one person either is or isn’t guilty, so it’s better when it’s not an either/or scenario. This is more like Clue (the board game) in that way.
And though the action is kept small until the very end, when the film does have an fight scene, it delivers. The first action set piece delivers a brutal close quarter fight to the death that raises the stakes and Neeson ably demonstrates why he’s become the go-to for these sorts of movies.
All in all it’s more of an acceptable action movie than anything special, but it does deliver the B-movie pleasures that are often missing from big budget action movies that are generally special effects extravaganzas with four or five pre-visualized set pieces and a half hour of bloat. There’s pleasures to be had with those films, but for anyone who likes the films of Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme, it’s also nice to see a well-paced genre film that feels like a throwback to an earlier era, right down to having a main character who drinks and smokes.
Also, it’s worth noting that those who come to this film to see Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o are going to be disappointed. Her presence was bumped up in the advertising (and in the credits) due to her Oscar campaign, but if she wasn’t billed as high as she was, you wouldn’t even think she was a red herring.
Universal’s Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy and presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The transfer is excellent, with a great surround track. As a new film, the transfer is flawless, and the film features a very engrossing surround mix. Supplements are limited to two featurettes: “Non-Stop Action” (5 min.) and “Suspense at 40,000 Feet” (8 min.). Both are basically EPK-level platitudes from the cast and crew.