Flying may be the safest form of travel, but most people may not know that from watching the movies. The Airport franchise was very popular in the 1970s and its parody Airplane! has actually come to outshine. The 90's saw a resurgence of airplane movies with films like Die Hard 2 and Executive Decision. And in 2005, who could forget mother----ing snakes on the mother----ing plane. But now the year opens with another film nobody will reignite anyone's fear of flying: Non-Stop.
Liam Neeson plays Bill Marx - an air marshal who is overcoming some tough times. He is divorced, his young daughter died of cancer and he was fired from the NYPD. After these issues, Bill has resorted to the bottle for solace as well as cigarettes. During a flight to England, Marx receives a text message saying if 150 million dollars is not put into a specific bank account within twenty minutes, a passenger will die. The body count does rise as does Marx's nervousness and paranoia do rise. Everyone on the plane is viable suspect. Unfortunately for Marx - because of his history - he is the chief suspect off the plane.
The first thing anyone needs to know about this movie is that this film is not the mile-a-minute action thrill ride some of the trailers have been making it out to be. This is actually more of a taught thriller with some action. (Realistically, a Die Hard or Taken-style action film would be very impractical on a film that takes place entirely on an airplane.) There is one major action set-piece in the film's third act; and, to be fair, it is spectacular. Accepting that, the film does a good job at building suspense. First of all, being on an airplane does have a certain element of danger. The people on board can not exactly open the door and walk out. Unlike a car or bus, the pilots can not just stop anywhere - and this flight is miles away from the nearest airport. Plus, as mentioned before, many people are afraid of flying to begin with. The filmmakers do take advantage of the location for a lot of suspense. Even though this plane is bigger than any aircraft I've ever been on, there is still a feeling of claustrophobia.
Although I never once thought Marx was the culprit, the film does build a lot of suspense. Despite Bill's best efforts, the terrorist always figures out a way to elude Marx, throw him off or gain the upper hand.To paraphrase Roddy Piper, every time Bill has the answers, the terrorist changes the questions. Admittedly, the tension is built on whether or not Marx WILL solve this mystery and clear his name but HOW he will do it. Using text messaging as a means of communicating with the villain actually proved to be effective. It allows the audience to receive information at the same time Marx receives information. Because texting is a mostly silent form of communication, the audience can absorb the atmosphere and read Liam Neeson's facial expression. A swirling camera in one scene helps the viewer understand Marx's no-doubt struggle to concentrate. Also, certain action does still play out such - a new twist on a classic scene - when Marx tries to figure out who the threat is by continuously texting with him so a stewardess and passenger can narrow down the culprit. Also, there is a clever visual gag when Marx tries to read a text from a smashed cell phone.
For Liam Neeson, a role such as this is not new material. Ever since Taken, Neeson has reinvented himself as one of the premiere action stars in such films as Unknown and one of my favorites The Grey. Recently, I was thinking about why Neeson has been such a great action hero. First of all, he has a lot intensity and a lot of quiet charisma - he does not need to chew scenery or shout all the time. Instead he speaks with confidence and backs up his actions. Also, I believe that his career in more dramatic films such as Schindler's List and Les Miserables gives him an edge because even though he is tough, he still has a tender side - he has kindness, he can be tender. There are scenes in the movie where he bonds with a young girl. These scenes could very easily come off as cloying of manipulative (and in a certain sense, they probably are) but Neeson's kindhearted delivery makes them believable. Also, it helps that Neeson is one of the few guys holding the ground of old school action films.
The rest of the cast is enjoyable enough. Although she has not been heavily advertised, Julianne Moore was a big get for me because she is one of my favorite actresses. Her role in this film is... good but not great. Moore does a good job with the material she is given, but she does not have a lot of material. Her character has an interesting backstory, but her participation in the story is rather passive. She has some good moments and a little chemistry with Neeson, but there could have been a little more to this role (pun not intended but hard to avoid). Still, the role is not completely disposable and Moore does make her character likable. Most of the supporting cast is on the same wavelength. The rest of the cast - flight attendants, an Arab doctor, a New York cop - are not the most fleshed out characters, but they are likable. I hope some of these actors find more work, because they did bring a lot of personality to relatively stock characters.
Non-Stop is a good thriller, but it is not a perfect film. One flaw is that even though the movie starts out on a good note of showing instead of telling, it still resorts to some back-heavy exposition toward the end of the movie. For example, the film starts out by showing Bill Marx's crisis - a few looks at his daughter's picture and seeing him take a few shots tell the story. But as the movie progresses, there are a lot of expository speeches about his drinking problem and his daughter's death. The reveal of who is behind this plan is a bit underwelming. Without giving too much away, when it is revealed, there is sort of a "that's it?" vibe. Then again, I should count my blessings as the filmmakers could have tried for a bigger twist and created a true wall-banging moment. The reveal is in-between: not crazy enough to be frustrating or exciting. To be fair, the big action set piece occurs around the same time as so our attention is quickly drawn elsewhere. Admittedly, the villains do have a very interesting motivation, but this motivation is - again - revealed through expository dialogue. Also, it is fair to warn people that this film does bring up 9/11. I can not even pretend to know how someone who was actually affected by 9/11 would react to this, but I can not ignore that it was brought up.
Overall, Non-Stop may not be the action roller coaster the advertising makes it out to be, but it is a thrill ride that will entertain audiences. In terms of Liam Neeson's action films, I still prefer Taken and The Grey, but Non-Stop is still a worthwhile adventure. Do I recommend seeing it in theaters or renting this one? Tough call, just do not expect it to be your next in-flight movie.
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