Starring: Liam Neeson (Taken), Julianne Moore (Crazy Stupid Love), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Scoot McNairy (Argo), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown)
Writers: John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle
Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes
Release Date: 28 February (US, UK)
Liam Neeson certainly took a major career shift with the release of Taken. Previously known as a serious dramatic actor, he suddenly switched to making a series of action-thrillers that radically range in quality from pretty good (Taken) to really, really bad (Taken 2). Non-Stop is another one of these films, but where on the scale does it land?
At the outset, Non-Stop does a good job of creating suspense and paranoia as Neeson’s character is set-up and the plot kicks in. The film wisely sets 90% of the film on the plane itself, keeping up the tension and the sense of isolation. The space is tight, the suspects wide, and the anxiety high. As the plot unravels, it does constantly keep you on your toes and every time you think you’ve got it all figured out, they throw you a curveball. The film manages to keep this up right up until all is revealed, but unfortunately that’s where Non-Stop quickly falls apart. All of the suspense built up to that point buckles because not only is the reveal poorly handled, not only are the motivations for these events trite and silly, but once you know who did it you quickly realise how utterly implausible this is. Thinking back on everything with this knowledge, the amount of coincidence and luck that this plan relies on is ridiculous and leaves you questioning how this could have worked if even the slightest bit of timing was off. It’s a real shame that all of the mystery and tension that the film had been building quickly dies by the time its all over.
If you’ve seen even one Liam Neeson action-thriller, you know what to expect from him. He’s grouchy and troubled but tough and badass when called for. He does exactly what you’d want from him. No more, no less. Not much else to say. The rest of the cast is decent, but the problems stem more from the fact that a lot of these actors seem a bit overqualified for their roles. Julianne Moore is a wonderful actress and she does a fine job here, but her role is barely notable. Scoot McNairy, another fine actor, feels underutilised and disappears for good chunks of the film. Michelle Dockery gets a decent amount to do but lacks definition and Lupita Nyong’o is wasted in a role that is utterly thankless. I’m sure this was shot before 12 Years a Slave blew up, but it still comes across as a missed opportunity. I know casting big names gets your film some credibility, but as a side effect it causes the film to feel a bit stuffed when so many of those names are stuck in parts that could have been played by absolutely anyone.
Shooting a movie almost entirely set on a plane does create a good sense of claustrophobia and isolation. However, it also seriously limits your cinematography options that is especially key when making a film with action sequences. Non-Stop isn’t as action-packed as you’d expect, but when the film does try to do them it inevitably relies on close-up action with quick cuts. How many times to I have to rag on this annoying trope before it goes away? For crying out loud, there’s an entire action sequence set in an airplane toilet! I know the options are limited in such tight quarters, but it is still frustrating to squint as I watch people fight filmed with shaky and unfocused camerawork.
Non-Stop is decent throwaway entertainment. It engages you for two hours and doesn’t do anything to really offend or annoy, but it doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it or you’ll quickly forget all about it and move on. It’s a much better film than Neeson and Collet-Serra’s previous effort Unknown (and don’t worry, they’ve got another one coming next year) and for most of the time watching it I enjoyed myself. But that reveal really does ruin it for me. Give it a go if you’re curious, you might even like it if you’re not too fussy, but don’t be surprised if you feel underwhelmed as the film comes to a close.
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10