Bill Marks, a U.S. air marshal with a mysterious past, begins to receive alarming text messages aboard his flight. The texts, from a mysterious person supposedly on the flight, asks for $150 million – or one person dies every 20 minutes. It’s a nifty-yet-mostly-silly premise, but Non-Stop manages to rise above the plot’s inherit short-comings to deliver an impressively robust exercise in suspense. The tension levels are kept high, keeping you guessing as you bite your nails away.
Liam Neeson is a fine actor, and his career change from dramatic player to all-out action-star has been surprisingly smooth. Although, he’s been delivering the same type of performance since deciding to kick ass. Dark, moody, mysterious and with a necessarily troubled backstory, Neeson’s usual persona is in play once again. In saying that, Neeson is genuinely magnetic on screen, ensuring that your eye stays with him as he acts upon his escalating suspicions.
The film rolls along at breakneck speed, barely allowing a second to go by, less you start spotting any plot holes. Non-Stop unfolds like a whodunit mystery, as Neeson desperately tries to pin who it is on the aircraft that is sending these texts. As things quickly get out of hand, our hero’s backstory is gradually brought forward, thanks to this mysterious villain’s grand plan. Our hero is soon trying to defend his actions, as passengers, the crew and individuals on the ground, begin to suspect that he may indeed may be the mastermind. While well-played by Neeson, Marks is actually a little too underdeveloped for us to ever feel as though we know him. His mystery, while admittedly necessary for the most part, is held for much too long, unravelling in an almost tacked on speech towards the end.
With any decent cinematic game of Cluedo, we need to have a variety of individuals from which to suspect. Non-Stop has a decent supporting cast to always have you thinking, “Oh, it’s definitely him. Wait, no, it’s definitely her. Oh, actually…” You get the idea. Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker and Corey Stoll all play their part in the plot, even if some of these parts become completely disposable once the finale comes around. Moore, for such a big name, actually doesn’t have too much to do, and almost seems wasted amongst the ups and downs of the plot.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Orphan, Unknown) and cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano (800 Bullets, Unknown) manage to deliver some truly creative sequences in such restricted quarters, the camera swinging every which way without resorting to motion-sickness inducing cinematography.
The screenplay, while sticking to an efficient style of plot reveals, stumbles during the last third. Once the villain is revealed you can’t help but feel a little disappointed, not that it was obvious, but that there wasn’t better reasoning behind everything. To say more would be disastrous, but the key rational for these events just don’t stand up. Also a major issue, in many action-thrillers, is the eye-rollingly cheesy final moments. The action-packed ending is great; why ruin it with a slapped-on romantic moment?
In saying all that, the film does deliver what it promises on the packaging – and it delivers it in style. Neeson fans won’t be left wanting, neither will fans of one-location thrillers. For the most part, this is a high-flying, relentlessly exhausting ride that manages to bring twists to the usual aircraft-set thriller.