Mark Reviews Movies

Non-Stop (2014)

NON-STOP (2014)

3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o, Omar Metwally, Jason Butler Harner, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 2/28/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 28, 2014

For its minimalist backdrop and potboiler setup, Non-Stop does a hell of a lot. The film is part Sherlockian mystery, part Kafkaesque nightmare, part study of modern-day paranoia over matters of security, and an entirely engrossing, Hitchcockian thriller about a troubled man whose actions are wrongfully judged by just about everyone around him. It lives up its title, too. There is hardly a beat that passes in which the screenplay by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle (the first shot at a feature screenplay for all of them) doesn't introduce some new, clever element or complication to the film's dizzying mix.

The plot itself is simple but novel: A hijacker threatens the lives of the passengers onboard a plane. The identity of the captor, though, is unknown. Everyone on the plane is a suspect.

The whole thing is anchored by two people: director Jaume Collet-Serra, who finds the right balance in tone—between a wink and a stern gaze—and moves the camera through the narrow aisles for maximum claustrophobic effect, and star Liam Neeson. Neeson, whose towering frame is even more imposing against the backdrop of the confined space inside a commercial jet's fuselage, may have become an unexpected action star in recent years, but within his performance here—which is primarily a reactive one as the character must make split-second decisions in response to the constantly evolving plot developments—he gives this character a quietly frantic desperation.

The character always gives the impression of being in control of the situation—even when he knows he isn't—but there's a lot of tension in the fact that Neeson's federal air marshal Bill Marks clearly is not in control of himself. It's not only that he might lose control at any moment but also that it gives the passengers—suspicious enough of him already—and, for that matter, the audience a good reason not to trust his judgment or everything he says. This dynamic between Marks and those he is sworn to protect raises the stakes exponentially, as it could bring the entire investigation into the threat against all of them to a grinding halt at any moment and leave them all vulnerable to the diabolical plan of someone who does not appear open to reason.

Before anyone even gets on the plane, Marks is sitting in his car in an airport parking lot, mixing whiskey into his coffee and stirring it with a toothbrush. Before covering up the unmistakable smell with some breath spray, he touches the photo of a young girl in the car's visor. Here, we get the sense, is a man with no shortage of sadness, an alcohol problem, and nothing to lose. His only phone and text conversations are work-related, primarily ensuring his TSA handler that he's ready for the non-stop, six-hour flight from Halifax to London. When a fellow smoker tries to start up the regular air-traveler talk outside the terminal, Marks is in a distant haze—barely registering the words aimed his way.

In mid-flight, Marks receives a series of text messages on the plane's secure network, the gist of which demand a ransom of $150 million or the hijacker will kill a passenger in 20 minutes. After that, the clock on his threat resets and will continue to do so until he or she gets the money. The person making the threat knows enough about Marks and the flight for the marshal to assume it's legitimate.

"How does someone kill a person on a crowded plane and get away with it," Marenick (Shea Whigham), another security agent on the flight, asks, and it's a rhetorical question Richardson, Roach, and Engle clearly put some devilish thought into answering. These responses include a man apparently dying simply from another's touch and the mystery of a dead man in a locked compartment with no way in and no one leaving (The answer to this one is particularly reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective). The first death shows a twisted sense humor (and really good timing on the hijacker's part) and forces Marks to cover up the fact that the villain's plan is actually working, lest Marks himself look like the only possible suspect.

From there, of course, it all spirals out of control. In the eyes of his superiors, the pilot, and the overwhelming majority of the passengers, Marks appears to be overreacting, especially when he begins a "random" search of certain passengers he and a few, select collaborators spot using cell phones on the cabin's live camera feed (The recordings, which would make it all a lot easier, are connected to the plane's black box and impossible to access) while Marks receives texts from the hijacker. That scene, by the way, is shot in an impressively subtle one-take that maneuvers through the aisles and across rows of seats, and it, along with a brawl inside the plane's lavatory, is the kind of staging that shows how well Collet-Serra knows how to make use of the story's austere setting.

As mentioned before, Neeson is quite good, even making a confessional monologue (which includes that mandatory A.A. sentence) seem natural instead of the full stop to the action it is, and the few passengers and crewmembers who actually have something to do in the plot are worth mentioning, too. Julianne Moore plays a woman who sits next to Marks and seems maybe a bit too eager to be of help. Michelle Dockery is the only flight attendant Marks knows, and Corey Stoll plays a New York City police officer with a few prejudices and a desire to be the hero. There's even a man of Middle Eastern descent, played by Omar Metwally, who initially receives a lot of crooked stares but ends up being one of the most obviously trustworthy people on the plane.

The finale drops the paranoid atmosphere for a traditional climax with a more obvious variety of ticking clock. That's not to say it isn't effective as a straightforward cap, and even within the parameters of a clear-cut conclusion, the film even contains a few eccentricities, such as a moment of weightlessness in free-fall (It's only a shame that the visual effects of the exterior of the plane aren't better, but nonetheless, they accomplish the job). It's likely that Non-Stop wouldn't hold up to scrutiny (It would almost definitely fail any real-world examination), but, as Hitchcock might argue, that's between you and the icebox.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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