Liam Neeson, the powerhouse Irish leading man attained blockbuster super stardom and a kind of career redefinition with Taken; which has resulted with a strange affliction. Every damned film the man has made since using his unique set of skills to rescue his kidnapped daughter from evil sex traffickers gets the lazy moniker of “Taken on …” We saw that with films like The Grey, “Taken with wolves” or even Schindler’s List, “Taken by Nazis.” Despite the advertisements insistence, Non-Stop is not “Taken on a plane,” it’s an exciting whodunit enhanced by the possibility of potentially falling out of the sky at any moment.
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) a washed-up air marshal and functioning alcoholic, is on a flight that may be his last. Mid-air he begins being taunted on his secure phone by an anonymous passenger threatening to kill passengers unless he does their bidding. However, the threats don’t end there; they’re also releasing propaganda to the media in flight to make them think that he’s the one hijacking the plane.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes the most of the naturally terrifying plane setting. That blissful comfort of air travel, vulnerable to the whims of nature heightens every moment of action. The claustrophobic limited space too is shot to emphasise the physical dominance of the imposing Neeson.
Screenwriters John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle (from a story by Richardson & Roach) set a frenetic pace. The opening stanza is concisely presented but loaded with inferred back story that gets you neck deep into this gripping high stakes scenario learning the ins and outs of the characters as you go. If there’s a major criticism it’s in the pacing of the story. This mid-air game of ‘Guess Who’ appears to be all too easy for the seasoned cop marshal. You’re aware that he’s slightly tiddly after giant swigs of vodka in his car at the beginning of the film and on the plane and yet he’s able to assert his reflexive wits to narrow down suspects for his tormenter with great proficiency. It almost would have been better to enhance his boozed up handicap, or slightly trimmed the running time. There's a corridor in the film that you're caught up with the external effects of the hijacker's schemes and the resulting media frenzy on the ground and brief windows diving into supporting characters like Julianne Moore’s Jen Summers, Michelle (Downton Abbey) Dockery’s Nancy that don’t seem to go anywhere. If you look at the comparable action of Speed, the moments of Jack (Keanu Reeves) getting to know Annie (Sandra Bullock) occur in short choice bursts interspersed with the action, instead of big chunks of exposition. Finally, without spoiling who the anonymous attacker is, their motivation is so convoluted it’s bordering on nonsensical.
Neeson has the presence for Marks and is extremely deft at the kind of flawed regret required for Marks to work. What Neeson isn’t as convincing at is being the nice guy underneath. There’s almost something wrong with him smiling and being a nice guy, in his post Taken existence. The supporting cast are O.K without having much to do. Moore totally works as the passenger sitting beside Neeson’s Marks because you get the sense that there’s more to her than she’s willing to reveal.
Non-Stop has thrills, the dread of falling out of the sky, with Neeson dishing out some fierce action; but at times this Cluedo on a plane it runs out of steam.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra Written by: John W. Richardson (screenplay) & Christopher Roach (screenplay) and Ryan Engle (screenplay) from a story by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o
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