When you look back on Liam Neeson’s long and certainly distinguished career – think The Bounty, A Prayer for The Dying and Schindler’s List among many – it’s amazing to think that there’s a whole new generation of movie-goers who now think of him exclusively as an action star. What a strange business.
As the opening logos of the various collaborative film distributors are displayed, a low, pulsating and slightly ominous rhythm on the soundtrack begins creating an immediate sense of urgency, and the opening credits haven’t even begun. In Non-Stop, just as the nonspecific, action sounding title suggests, once the basic setup to the lead character’s plight is established, we’re off, and it truly doesn’t stop.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. Air Marshal, on his way from New York to London. When we first meet Marks, he’s sitting in his parked car at the airport, taking a secret swig of liquor and gazing at a picture of a little girl. Obviously he’s a man with issues. What those issues are is not entirely clear – obviously alcoholism and missing a child are among them – but there’s clearly more.
Despite the drink and the feeling of melancholy, Marks can still do his job. At the check-in he glances at all the passengers passing him as they embark on the transatlantic flight. He notices little things; how passengers talk, what they’re carrying, how they look, scars or marks on their skin, anything that might indicate whether they could be a potential threat to the flight or not. When someone talks to him, he ignores them, wishing only to observe.
“I know it may seem scary,” says a kindly, female flight-attendant to a nervous little girl, “But flying is quite fun.”
And within minutes of the plane taking off, the fun begins, only it’s not quite the fun the flight-attendant had in mind. The Marshal keeps receiving strange texts from an unknown source. “Are you ready to do your duty Marshal?” asks the first. After disappearing for a few minutes into a bathroom to smoke a cigarette, the Marshal receives another text. “Smoking in the bathroom is a federal offence.” Someone on the plane is watching him, and it’s not good. Then the really threatening message is received. “In exactly 20 minutes I am going to kill someone on this plane.”
Once the mysterious texter sends a further message demanding 150 million dollars to be transferred to a specific bank account, the Marshall leaps to action. What follows is a series of spot-checks, searches, and angry passengers forced to show their phones and empty their carry-ons. The Marshal checks in with his TSA boss back on the ground who tells the agent that they’ve investigated the numbers on the bank account and they’ve discovered something startling; the name on the account is the Marshal’s. Then the TSA boss states that he can no longer talk to the Marshal. “Why not?” asks Marks, dismayed that his supervisor would cut him off in the middle of a crisis. “We can’t communicate with a terrorist,” the supervisor responds. And from that point, Marks, now himself the chief suspect, is on his own.
Despite the truly promising setup and an unwavering edge-of-your-seat tone that sets in from the get-go, Non-Stop quickly evolves into the kind of implausible thriller that makes you start questioning everything. It’s the sort of film where you buy the situations as they happen – things move so fast you don’t always have time to think – but later, when you reflect back on certain events, you find your self saying, now, wait a minute…
Neeson does this kind of thing well. He’s such a good actor he can portray added layers of self-doubt, worry and a touch of vulnerability to a character in a way that a lesser performer specializing in action can’t, and with perhaps more depth than the part deserves. But even he can’t always carry a film where motivation and logic continually come into question.
But for those who are perfectly happy to switch reason and common sense off with a who cares? attitude in favor of a white-knuckle thrill ride – the attempted landing with a bomb on board that is about to go off is genuine nail-biter – Non-Stop will do, and with Taken 3 confirmed in development, Liam Neeson’s new-found action hero persona will be hanging around for some time.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)