First Word: Even in his 60s, Liam Neeson is showing no signs of slowing down. He continues his late-career run as an action hero in Non-Stop, a suspenseful, airborne thriller with a climax that doesn’t quite live up to what precedes it. Reuniting with his Unknown (2011) director, Jaume Collet-Serra, Neeson stars as himself — er, Bill Marks, a gruff federal air marshal with a checkered history of alcoholism and possible familial strife. He’s still good at his job and close quarters combat, no matter how under the influence he might be. Though the name and occupation are new, Marks is essentially the same character Neeson has portrayed in his many recent offerings, including Taken (2008) and The Grey (2012).
Synopsis: Soon after takeoff on a flight from New York to London, Marks receives a series of text messages. Someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a specified bank account, the unknown texter warns. Marks springs into action, enlisting the aid of those he believes he can trust, including a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), the passenger sitting in the seat next to him (Julianne Moore) and a doctor of Middle Eastern descent (Omar Metwally). The other air marshal (Anson Mount) on board is no help, and neither is his supervisor on the ground, leaving Marks to puzzle out the mystery with limited resources. When people start dying, evidence points to Marks as a potential hijacker, making him even more desperate and extreme in his methods to find the perpetrator — and even more guilty in the eyes of those who already think him so. For the first two acts this is a surprisingly and engaging film. And then there’s the ending, which, while still offering some excitement, presents a villain that even the most astute viewer could not identify beforehand using anything other than a guess and then requires said villain to monologue his motivation — a clichéd finale to a movie that succeeds mostly due to the unpredictable nature of its first two acts. 7.75/10
Direction/Cinematography: For much of its running time, Non-Stop is an original, compelling whodunit. Events unfold in a manner that keeps us guessing along with Marks, and the tension mounts with each passing 20-minute interval. Collet-Serra creatively moves the camera throughout the aircraft’s confined space, trapping us there as surely as the passengers. One long take in which Marks searches several suspicious characters, and during which the camera, aided by a little digital wizardry, exits the plane and then comes back inside, is particularly impressive. The director also uses the camera to cast suspicion on certain passengers, lingering on them just a little longer than others. 7.5/10
Characterization: Neeson gives a typically solid performance, though unfortunately the screenplay, credited to John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, fails to allow anyone else to do the same. It’s particularly disappointing that Moore all but disappears in the movie’s second half. (Lupita Nyong’o, an Oscar winner for her superb work in “12 Years a Slave,” has even less to do.) 6.5/10
Conclusion: Non-Stop is a good film, but fails to be great due to its third act problems. The film continuously builds suspense for a third act reveal that is incredibly disappointing. However this film is well acted and well directed.
Final Score: 7.3