NON-STOP (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2014)
In NON-STOP United States federal air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) faces an urgent situation when a terrorist on-board his New York-to-London flight threatens to kill someone every twenty minutes unless $150 million is placed in a secure account. Bill can only communicate with the hijacker through text messages, so he has no way of knowing who among the 150 passengers and crew is putting everyone on the plane in danger.
The tense group of fliers becomes more agitated as they object to Bill violating their civil rights in his search for the villain. They also have reason to believe that he is really the bad guy. Bill is already the prime suspect in the minds of those on the ground because the bank account is revealed to be in his name. Like it or not, Bill has to trust others, including row mate Jen (Julianne Moore) and flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery), to look for the responsible party even if he can’t be completely sure that they aren’t in on the plot.
NON-STOP’s high concept premise delivers DIE HARD on a plane if it were written by Agatha Christie. As he’s shown in his recent run of action films, Neeson makes a striking hero whose credibility is never in doubt here as he singlehandedly takes control of an anxious mass in a confined space. If he needs to throat-punch everyone on the flight to subdue them, by God he’ll do it. The cast is populated with several familiar faces that even if they’re not identifiable by name, enough plausible options for the perpetrator exist to keep the audience guessing. In pure genre terms NON-STOP lives up to its name by combining the intensity of an action movie with the pleasures of a whodunit.
Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in UNKNOWN, lays out the tight quarters well and has some fun visualizing the texts Bill gets. Bill does a lot of communicating through a device. thus making it necessary to integrate the pop-up text and images with some extra flair. So, when a device’s screen is smashed, the pop-up data gets glitchy. Collet-Serra uses Neeson’s gruff presence and the film’s forward momentum to help to smooth over the increasingly implausible events.
NON-STOP strives for some relevance regarding post-9/11 life. The film works best as a demonstration of the security process and the aggravation and doubts many feel about it, even if incorporating more serious commentary can feel like the filmmakers are overreaching. The latitude given to law enforcement, the lack of information provided to the public,and false positives create distrust between those sworn to protect and those under their watch. Bill struggles to sort through a mass of data that can cast suspicion on the innocent. The passengers and crew don’t have full confidence that this drunk with a badge is using the information appropriately. NON-STOP makes its points less effectively when assigning motivation to whoever is orchestrating the terror. The film’s subtext gives NON-STOP a bit of substance, but ultimately it’s most successful in creating a mystery and reveling in Neeson showing everyone who’s the boss.