Up in the air: Liam Neeson’s back in action in Non-Stop

by Mark Burger

Liam Neeson’s string of middle-aged men-of-action roles continues with Non-Stop, a high-concept whodunit reuniting him with director Jaume Collet- Sera, who previously guided him through his paces in Unknown (2011).

As Bill Marks, an air marshal with a checkered history, Neeson’s only minutes into a trans-Atlantic flight when he starts receiving anonymous text messages threatening a murder every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into a secret account. The disillusioned, hard-drinking Bill’s in no shape for this, but that’s what makes Neeson a hero worth rooting for.

Suspects and red herrings abound, with suspicion falling on everyone at one time or another – including Marks himself. Even Julianne Moore, as Bill’s fellow passenger and de-facto leading lady Jen, who becomes his staunchest ally (sometimes), is occasionally photographed in an ominous manner. That, of course, is all part of the fun – trying to guess who’s not what they seem.

It’s wise not to contemplate deeply the plot specifics, lest the seams show – which they do. Better to hang on and enjoy the ride. Non-Stop may be a popcorn picture, but it’s executed with savvy.

Neeson carries the movie with aplomb, ably assisted by a well-chosen cast including Moore, Corey Stoll (as a New York cop) Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount and Nate Parker, although 12 Years a Slave Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo has a throwaway role as a worried flight attendant. The suspense is augmented by Flavio Martinez Labiano’s moody cinematography and John Ottman’s smoothly menacing score.

Non-Stop effectively exploits post-9/11 air-travel fears without becoming tasteless. There’s bound to be some contrivance in a storyline such as this, but the film never crosses the line into stupidity. Superior to producer Joel Silver’s previous airborne blow-outs Passenger 57 (1992) and Executive Decision (1996), which admittedly wouldn’t have been very difficult, Non-Stop is also the least-likely in-flight movie since Robert Zemeckis’ Flight two years ago.