At this writing, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was ongoing, and so I suppose it’s somewhat timely that our film this week deals with trouble aboard an airplane. As someone with a severe aversion to flying, I must confess that the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370 and the events chronicled in “Non-Stop” starring the always entertaining Liam Neeson have emphatically reinforced my resolve for confining my travel to earthbound vehicles.
But my inherent pteromerhanophobia did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying “Non-Stop,” in which Neeson turns in another stellar performance, this time as Bill Marks, a U.S. federal air marshal with enough personal baggage to weigh down any 747. We first meet Bill in the airport parking lot as he is sitting in his car awaiting his assigned flight to arrive, and we immediately learn not all is well with him because the first thing he does after parking his car is polish off what is left in his flask.
Now that he has a sufficient buzz going, Marks makes his way through the airport to board British Aqualantic Flight 10 for a non-stop trip from New York to London. Marks’ seatmate originally is a cell phone programmer named Zack White (Nate Parker), but before the plane takes off, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) asks Zack to trade seats with her, and she settles in next to Bill, who it turns out is terrified of the takeoff portion of flights.
Everything appears to be proceeding smoothly with the flight until the plane is well out over the ocean, and then Bill begins receiving terrifying text messages from a demented passenger. If this wacko doesn’t receive $150 million deposited into a specific bank account, passengers will begin dying at the rate of one every 20 minutes.
Now I don’t want to spoil any of this taut thriller for you by giving too much away, and so what follows is intentionally vague. Naturally after receiving the texts, Bill immediately begins a race against time to find out who is sending the messages so he can prevent the deaths of innocent people. He ultimately enlists the help of Jen and a flight attendant named Nancy (Michelle Dockery), and watching the three of them frantically trying to identify the culprit is riveting. And just when you think you know who it is, something happens to prove you wrong. To complicate matters even further, some of the people on the ground crew begin to think Bill has hijacked the plane.
As the drama continues to unfold in the aircraft, Bill makes a shocking discovery, and it will take all his effort, experience, and more than a little luck to ensure a safe landing. The current situation simply exacerbates Bill’s troubled life. We know from the outset that he has a drinking problem, but as the story progresses, we find out the reason for his alcoholism, and after learning what he has been through with his family, we really can’t blame him for seeking some solace in the bottle.
“Non-Stop” is one of the best suspense thrillers I’ve seen in quite some time because it constantly keeps you guessing and because the tension begins slowly and builds steadily until it causes a serious case of white knuckles. Neeson is one of Hollywood’s best action stars, and he shows why in this nail-biter. As the situation on the plane becomes more and more serious, you can see the concern on Bill’s face intensify because Neeson is so good at conveying emotion without speaking, and he also succeeds beautifully in eliciting our sympathy for the mental anguish his character endures. In the film’s production notes Neeson explained what drew him to the part.
“When we see Bill in the start of the film, he’s a guy on the edge and someone you don’t want to sit beside on a long-haul flight. The finger of suspicion points to him for quite a period. But I was drawn to him because in a very basic, cinematic, iconic-figure way, he fits that mold of someone who does what he has to do to save the day. He’s an everyday guy who rises to the challenge.”
Another key player in the drama is Jen, who has a real aura of mystery about her. In fact, Bill is never quite sure whether to trust her not, and that’s another thing that makes this film work so well. By the time the movie reaches the halfway point, no one on the plane is above suspicion with the possible exception of Bill, and even he isn’t a safe bet. Neeson and Moore play off each other very well, and in the production notes Moore shared her viewpoint about the film and offered some insight into her character.
“I like the idea of everybody in a tight space experiencing the drama at the same time. It reminded me of a ’70s movie where you have all these people in a dangerous situation, and it moves very quickly. You don’t know what’s going to happen; you don’t know who the bad guy is. There’s a high level of suspense.
“She (Jen) is someone who comes on with a lot of presence and is actively seeking a window seat, but you don’t know why. You get to know her as the movie unfolds, but you don’t know what her complete back story is because she’s elusive in telling it.”
In addition to the overall perilous situation on the aircraft what adds even more to the tension is that director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Unknown”) chose to have much of film’s later action occur in real time. This was really effective, and when you throw in some incredibly unpredictable moments in the plane and plenty of plot twists, they all add up to a most memorable flight.
Once Flight 10 takes off, the action in “Non-Stop” is pretty much non-stop, and this film earns a thrilling eight. If you’re look for high-flying excitement, you definitely will get it in this movie. Although I found the movie highly entertaining, the main thing it did for me was firmly reinforce my love affair with solid ground.
*On a more serious note, here’s hoping that by some miracle the mystery of Flight 370 has a happy ending.