Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Linus Roach
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 2/24/14
Opens: February 28, 2014
The year is young but already two movies will not likely increase its financial health by screenings on in-flight entertainment. The first, “The Wind Rises,” a fictionalized biography of the man who developed the Zero planes used in the Pearl Harbor attack, is a Japanese animated feature. Planes crash before the engineer comes to the rescue. “Non-Stop” is animated in another way, a live-action thriller about an airline hijacker who demands $150 million or “one passenger will die every twenty minutes.” Given that the villain, identity revealed near the conclusion, is aware that an armed air marshal is on board, one wonders how he thinks he would get away with killing more than one person before he is felled. But that’s just one of the holes.
“Non-Stop” has holes because that’s what thrillers like to have. Nevertheless, “Non-Stop” is suspenseful from start to finish, its extras (the passengers) choreographed deftly by director Jaume Collet-Serra, while John W. Richardson and Christopher Roach’s script is filled with credible twists. As a bonus, Liam Neeson serves as a terrific role model for people in the audience who think that at Neeson’s age, sixty-one, one is way over the hill for action adventures. His acting, complete with his lilting Irish articulation, is spellbinding.
All these attributes make “Non-Stop” one of the best thrillers to hit the big screen in years.
On an international flight from New York to London, air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) gets a number of text messages on his iPhone by a person who appears to know everything about him: about his daughter who died at an early age from Leukemia, which turned Marks into an alcoholic, and the number of his bank account. In this whodunit, which will keep you guessing (“Aha it’s him, no wait, it’s her, or maybe it’s the 8-year-old girl who might have been only pretending to be scared”), the hijacker knows that Marks had been fired from the New York Police Department for his alcoholism, and wouldn’t you know: he was later hired by Homeland Security. This tells you either that the scripters have plowed themselves into one of the biggest plot holes, or that Homeland Security is not as efficient as we’ve been led to believe (nah).
Strangely enough, the account to which the 150 million is to be transferred is owned by Marks. Is a Homeland Security agent so dumb that he would think his bank number could not be traced, thereby implicating him as suspect number one? (Maybe.)
A diverse group of passengers react in various ways, in one situation preparing to gang up on the marshal who seems to be acting too uppity, beating up the folks in Economy. There’s one Muslim, Dr. Fahim Nasir (Omar Metwally), with a beard and a doppa on his head. That’s the Muslim version of the Hebrew kippa. Would someone dressed like that be the hijacker? Not likely, since a terrorist would probably shave his beard, color his hair blond, and wear blue contact lenses, although maybe he was double-psyching the authorities who are sure that no Muslim hijacker would be so obvious. Could it be Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), the charming seatmate who appears sophisticated enough to launch such an operation? Maybe. The director may think only a status-A star would be considered important enough to implicate. Could it be the nerdy guy who, before boarding, tries to make conversation by asking “Where ya heading?” This could be, since he did say he was going to Amsterdam and yet he was taking a plane with one stop in London when he could have gone direct with KLM. Maybe even Nancy (Michelle Dockery) one of the hostesses, wants to make more than she could earn is several lifetimes in the employ of the airline. Even Captain David McMillan (Linus Roache), could be at least part of the conspiracy, since it would be easy for him to text in the privacy of the cockpit. The leading suspect remains Bill Marks: in fact the other air marshal, Agent Marenick (Shea Whigham), appears to have cocaine stashed in his luggage, easy to bring abroad given his title.
There you have it: suspense, fast pace, full use of the big screen, and a brain-teaser that will have the audience putting suspicion first on this guy, then that woman, then that other guy, and so on.
Rated PG-13. 107 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-