Non-Stop is a suspense action film that’s very good at the suspense and very lousy at the action. It devotes much of itself to the build up of the narrative, which is admirable, considering we are in an airplane for over an hour and a half, but once the build up’s over and the cat’s out of the bag, the screenplay betrays the trust of its characters by diluting them to cardboard cutouts of people who are aware that they are only acting in a movie.
Take the hero, Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), a federal air marshal who’s afraid of flying. He’s saddled with a backstory that does him justice as a conflicted man sworn to carry out a duty that he no doubt loves but finds very difficult to enjoy. He carries a ribbon that his daughter gave to him. It’s his lucky charm. He has an alcohol and smoking problem, the latter he breaks the law to facilitate while in the air (smokers around the world will be packing duct tape after seeing this). The screenplay by John Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle tries very hard to give Bill some depth, and this it achieves, until the movie’s third act springs to life and robs him of any decent humanity. It’s sort of noxious that by the end of the movie he has managed to save a little girl from getting sucked out of the plane’s fuselage, and managed to plant the seeds of a possible romance with his next door passenger, Jen (Julianne Moore), who seems very comfortable being a thankless character. All this after he has defeated the terrorists who, and this comes as no spoiler, break tradition by being Americans.
But let’s talk about the first two acts, because they are very good. Bill is the marshal on board British Aqualantic Flight 10 from New York to London. He receives a text via a secure network that says the person at the other end wants 150 million wired to an account within the next 20 minutes or someone on the plane will die. Clearly this isn’t a hoax; whoever sent the text knew Bill was smoking illegally in the lavatory. There’s invasion of privacy somewhere in there.
Naturally, Bill gets paranoid and begins a conversation with this mystery person. He informs the captain (Linus Roache), who then informs TSA. TSA calls Bill and tells him he’s insane. If he doesn’t drop the act and behave rationally, he’ll be accused of causing panic and branded a hijacker. This is all good stuff. None of it is plausible, of course, but our interest is piqued because the setting is so claustrophobic. This isn’t a cat and mouse chase around the streets of New York; here there is nowhere for the guilty to hide except behind another person. And who knows how innocent that person might be?
There are other passengers on the plane, including a sexy blonde who has no issues with fornicating in business class; a geeky teacher (Scoot McNairy) who approached Bill at the airport and asked him for a light; an impatient black hipster (Corey Hawkins) who enjoys the sexy blonde through his cell phone camera; a Middle Eastern doctor of neurology (Omar Metwally), sure-footed and confident of his heritage; and an NYPD cop (Corey Stoll) whose shifty eyes tell us quickly that maybe he is the culprit. Added to this list are two impossibly attractive air stewardesses (Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o). One plays a major part, the other slips into obscurity (intriguing, considering her recent Oscar grab). All these characters I liked in one way or another. They fill out the cast manifest and have their heads on straight.
Unfortunately, the screenplay’s head comes loose at the end, where the guilty is revealed and the plane suffers some hull damage. I for one cannot say I understood this revelation, nor can I say what the revelation is. It seems Richardson, Roach and Engle devised the story with excitement and thought not about how to end it. Characters are forgotten. Motives are blurred. Loose ends are knotted up with no extra thread. The bad guys go through so much trouble to give us some sparkling suspenseful moments, and then their ingenuity drops dead just like that, before we even have the time to fear them.
Best Moment | Nope.
Worst Moment | The little love story between the stewardess and the co-pilot.