The one thing you can never do when Liam Neeson is in the film is say that there was no talent brought to bear for whatever film you happen to be watching. Let’s review.
For me, he really came into prominence with Schindler’s List. While I have no intention of watching the film again, or certainly not for a long time, it’s not because the film is not good or because Neeson was not good. Indeed, Neeson’s performance is amazing and the role is well done.
Then he was the only decent Jedi in a completely mixed up alternate universe where the Star Wars prequels were made (I don’t acknowledge their existence in my little world). Regardless of the terrible, terrible writing that killed him off by the end of the film and made him responsible for Darth Vader, he’s still amazing as a Jedi. You don’t mess with Qui-Gon Jinn!
And there’s Henri Ducard in Batman Begins. Batman has faced a lot of villains over the years, but up until that point, not one quite so chillingly menacing, cold, and calculating — willing to destroy an entire city filled with innocent people to suit his own warped view of justice. Without Neeson’s Ducard, we would not have The Dark Knight trilogy that we have come to (mostly) love.
The dude was also one of the greatest (and least tame) lions known to mankind: Aslan. As Bryan Mills, his daughter was Taken and he went on the warpath to get her back. He was Zeus in Wrath of the Titans. He himself was Taken and then he killed those responsible for it. He was a bad, bad cop in The LEGO Movie.
So I think I’ve established that Neeson is not the right guy to mess with. If he’s on a plane, maybe hijack a different one? And seriously, as far as acting careers go, the guy is getting better and better with age. There are only one or two other stars that do that (Patrick Stewart comes to mind).
The thing that surprised me the most perhaps is the emotional struggle and heartfelt trauma that Bill Marks (Neeson) brought into the story. And right now I’m not really sure if it was really great writing, or pretty bad writing that Neeson saved with some amazing acting. I’m trying to think of some of those scenes in a different scenario or a different actor and it just doesn’t work. If the part was written after Neeson was cast then I would go with great writing. But if it was written before he was cast I’m going to go with, terrible writing that got lucky.
The film starts with a very long, long, long (did I mention long) shot just solid on a Neeson head shot. He looks around just a bit, smokes a cig, and it gets very uncomfortable before we cut to another angle. It was just about to the point where I wondered what kind of film we were in for. I suppose that’s what the director was going for. And I think Neeson pulled it off. Several more scenes with Neeson show us that he’s not in a great frame of mind. He’s probably got an alcohol problem, which was confirmed throughout the film, and there’s definitely some sort of emotional trauma that is deep seated. What it is begins to unravel throughout the film. As I say, it’s amazing that it worked, and even so, at one or two points I just barely started to wonder why I cared. And maybe once when a little nagging in the back of my head reminded me how terribly clichéd this was. But I think for the most part, Neeson pulled it off.
This film is exceedingly good at steering clear of the cheesiness of a setup film and whodunit downward spiral, while still maintaining a very serious and intriguing air of mystery. Many films of this ilk either give you too much information too quickly, or leave you hanging so long you want to murder someone yourself. But Non-Stop progresses in a logical way. And as you rule out a few people here and there, the suspects list dwindles satisfactorily slowly, leaving you with questions right up until the very end.
Julianne Moore also does a great job of keeping you guessing about her. Is she in on it, is she really one of the “good guys” or is she a “bad guy” (see the movie to find out! Oh the drama!)? Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, and Corey Stoll all play their part as well in the mystery. It could be any of them.
Surprisingly absent from the film is Lupita Nyong’o even though she’s billed seventh on the cast list. I suppose if they had filmed Non-Stop after 12 Years a Slave became such a success perhaps they would have written her into the script a little bit more.
But, as you might expect from an action/thriller this early in the year, there are several head scratchers in this film. Why is there not one, but two U.S. Air Marshals assigned to a British flight on its way to London? It is my understanding that once a flight is off the ground it is considered the territory of the country from which the airway hails. While in the air, you’re on the national “soil” of the country out of which the aircraft is operated. This is a British airline and a British crew. Why a U.S. Marshal?
One of the members of the flight brings an illegal substance on board via a briefcase — AND THERE’S A BOMB COVERED UP IN THE ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE. I know and believe that a lot of our airline security these days is all just theatrics, but I have a hard time believing that something this obvious would have made it past security. All carry-on luggage goes through x-ray. And they just missed that? Come on!
I also have a hard time believing that a New York cop would be so stupid during the first half (or a little more) of the film, and then suddenly turn right around and be the hero.
And the motivation for our villain(s) is completely muddy and unclear. I don’t get it one little bit. Security is lax, people are in danger, those people need protecting. So let’s blow them up? No, that makes no sense. And how did they know so much about Marshal Bill Marks? How could they have spent so long planning this to go down with exactly these two airline Marshals when there is no way they were both locked down for this flight for no more than a day, maybe two? Does not compute.
And I really, really, really don’t buy that TSA back on the ground just completely dismisses threatening texts. And that they have the captain take the Marshal’s badge and gun WITH NO PROVOCATION OR NEED TO DO SO. This is manufactured drama of the most heinous form and is probably the sole reason for bringing this film down from four stars to three. Seriously, why is the security on the ground so sure that nothing is wrong? Marks is receiving threatening texts. Those texts are going over a secure network. They even established that if the network went down, no texty texts. So even though it’s not using the same text protocol that you or I use, it’s reliant upon the external network. That means it has to go through the TSA secure server. Marks’ phone is a TSA phone. Are you really telling me they don’t have access to the text conversation Neeson is having with the guy? Come on. Nonsense. It’s insane to think that even our inept TSA would not take this threat seriously.
Despite my criticisms, the film is quite fun. I enjoyed it more than I did not. I felt for Neeson as his story was revealed. I railed against the incompetence of the ground security with him. I gasped when he went a little too far at times and chided him mentally. I was on the edge of my seat as the thrill of the end and the question, “do they make it?” is answered. I was engaged in the film at the very least, and that’s worth something — especially when a film has so many plot discrepancies. It has often been said that a good film is not one devoid of plot issues, but one where they fade into the background. I was willing to forgive a fair number of those issues for the sake of a good thriller, and for that, my rating stays on the positive side of the scale. Despite the irritations, it was a lot of fun. The film may not live on in our hearts and minds the way much of Neeson’s past work has, but it was fun and diverting, and a pleasant way to spend my time at the cinema.