Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Director: Jaume Collet-Sera
Liam Neeson reunites with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Sera for another exercise in the angry-middle-aged-man-puts-world-to-rights subgenre he has made his own. This time he plays Bill Marks, a bleak-eyed, burnt out US Air Marshall. “They gave a paranoid alcoholic a gun and a badge and they put him on my plane,” complains a pilot reasonably enough. But one man’s paranoid alcoholic is another man’s hero, and Bill has to stir himself to action when, midway across the Atlantic on a packed flight to Heathrow, he gets a message from one of the passengers threatening to kill someone on the plane every twenty minutes if he doesn’t receive 150 million dollars.
With events largely restricted to the interior of the aircraft and unfolding in real time, Non-Stop takes a gambit as old as Hitchcock or older – a threat in a confined setting – but updates it by having Bill conduct his battle of wits with the villain mainly through texts, which flit across screen much as they do in the US remake of House of Cards.
The subtext to all this texting is the contrast between the helpless, jostled, one-of-a-crowd anonymity in which the majority of us spend our daily lives and the dark freedoms and empowered facelessness of life online. The former is emphasised in early scenes – deftly handled by Collet-Sera – of the passengers shuffling on board in a mood of world-weariness and stretched nerves. If there’s something comfortingly familiar about the way the film assembles its cast of suspects and/or helpers, you’re also aware of a testy brittleness to this ad hoc community than you don’t get in, say, Hitchock’s The Lady Vanishes and it’s all steeped in the wistful melancholy and gnawing paranoia of a society permanently in transit.
Later scenes boldly ratchet up the tension and take several imaginative and disconcerting twists, especially to do with one of the methods of killing, which is most unexpected. With Bill’s behaviour growing more extreme, the authorities on the ground become convinced that he himself is hijacking the plane – and Neeson’s performance is just crazy and tyrannical enough to make you wonder.
Somewhere along the line the film loses some of its emotional clout as events accelerate towards an efficiently streamlined conclusion. But Non-Stop is never less than a solid airborne thriller, and the final act throws up the movie’s most memorable minute and a bit in the form of some crowd-pleasing floaty-in-mid-air gunplay. Julianne Moore is pretty much just along for the ride, but Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey puts in a good shift as a plucky member of the cabin crew. Be warned, there’s also one very scary moment when Liam Neeson smiles. Glad that doesn’t happen too often.
Extras include brief interviews with the leads and two featurettes, one on the elaborate set (with lifting sides like a DeLorean and a tramway running above the seats) and what it was like to film on it day after day over the two month shoot, and another on the stunts and action sequences, including a fight in a lavatory cubicle made of foam.