Upon first glance of Non-Stop it would appear that Liam Neeson has walked straight off the set of Taken onto the set of Flightplan – albeit via the airport bar. We are introduced to Neeson’s character Bill Marks as he wearily and possibly-drunkenly wanders through an airport terminal en route to catch a flight. Marks is a US Marshall, performing his routine duties of protecting the traveling passengers, but it is very clear that Marks is a broken man. He is seated next to friendly and talkative Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and converses with flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery), but otherwise remains impassive and professional.
Once the flight reaches cruising altitude, Marks receives text messages delivered through the airline’s secure network. The message threatens to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless millions of dollars of ransom money are wired through to a designated account. This scene, complete with text bubbles appearing on screen, may at first seem laughably impotent, but becomes more grim as passengers do indeed begin dying, but not in the way you may expect. Marks enlists the help of Jen and Nancy to surveil other passengers, but finds opposition and frustration from many passengers, including a former NYPD officer Austin (Corey Stoll, House of Cards) and geekish Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy).
Director Jaume Collet-Sera (who previously worked with Neeson on the stolen-identity film Unknown) creates a entertaining and exciting thriller, working with cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano to transform the familiar surroundings of the airplane into a dynamic and claustrophobic maze. Every passenger and crew member (including an appearance from 12 Years A Slave’s Lupita Nyung’o) could be an ally or suspect, and the tension mounts as Marks discovers the account the money is to be transferred to is in his name. He is soon labelled as a hijacker and the frustrated and terrified passengers collude to stop who they see as a would-be terrorist. This all leads to a ludicrously over-the-top climax involving a literal ticking time-bomb and a plummeting fuselage.
The whole ensemble cast turn in good performances, particularly Julianne Moore and Michelle Dockery who come with a welcome, effervescent presence. The film however, mainly belongs to Liam Neeson. He seems to enjoy stepping into this new archetypal role of Action Hero he has molded himself into since Taken and his obvious acting talents imbues an otherwise stock-standard character with depth and pathos. The audience is with him for every minute of this vertiginous thrill ride and it is particular credit to Neeson that while almost every character in this film turns against him, the loyal viewer does not. Leave your logical mind at the door and embrace your visceral, thrill-seeking side as the image of Neeson snatching a gun out of the air whilst experiencing zero gravity is worth the price of admission alone.
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