Director: Jaume Collet-Serra; Writers: John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, Ryan Engle; Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o, Nate Parker, Omar Metwally; Running time: 106 minutes; Certification: 12A
We’re only two months into the year and already this is Liam Neeson’s third film (in the US at least; The Nut Job isn’t released in the UK until way back in August). The big Irishman appears to be taking the baton from Nicholas Cage (who has eased off recently) for the most films possible in one year, yet as far as I’m aware he doesn’t have any bankruptcy issues to spur him on. Not that anyone’s complaining: Neeson has proved himself to be one of the most reliable faces in blockbusters, good and bad, and while it would be nice to see him revert to some more interesting work in the vein of Ra’s Al Gul and Oskar Schindler, he’s always a delight to see on a cast list.
On the basis of the promotional material, Non-Stop appeared to be a step in neither direction; Liam Neeson doing is Taken shtick on a plane with a standard whodunit narrative. Nobody quite takes on these kind of roles like he does, and while his character, an alcoholic United States air marshal who’s separated from his family for reasons unbeknown to us, is unbelievably clichéd, we’re always in the position to care and root for him, even when the drama takes its most absurd turns.
At worst the film is unspectacular, boarding on the ridiculous, doing nothing we haven’t seen before; at best it’s a nail-biting game of Guess Who interspersed with brutal (at least for a 12A) fight scenes and Liam Neeson growing increasingly saturated as he runs up and down the aisles searching for his harasser. Plot-wise we’re in rather predictable territory. Even if the climactic events hadn’t been spoiled by the trailer, we would’ve known pretty much the direction things were heading from the off, and when the big reveal finally comes, the drama descends into very generic punchy explodey territory and really it just becomes a matter of waiting for the thing to finish.
Yet everything leading up to the inevitable Hollywood pay-off is actually quite excellent. The script does a good job of keeping us guessing the whole way through as it introduces various passengers on-board the flight (solidified by a strong supporting cast) as potential bad guys, and the pacing is spot on. For ninety minutes it’s a taught, gripping exercise in mind games which all in all leads to a perfectly solid and surprisingly effective little thriller that retains a disciplined slow-to-reveal narrative for as long as possible. If it doesn’t reinvent the rules, it utilizes the ones already set to good effect to create a run-of-the-mill but entertaining flick perfectly suited to find a home on Netflix.