Purely by chance, until “Non-Stop” I had never seen an action movie in which Liam Neeson played a father/hunter/cop of about 60 taking on kidnappers/wolves/criminals. He has made six of them over the last six years, but I was always covering another event on the screening night or reviewing a different film that week or simply washing my cat.
So I’m no expert on this mini-genre. But if they are as well-constructed as this one, I’ve been missing something.
The big difference in “Non-Stop,” I’m told, is that air marshal Bill Marks is more fallible than usual. He’s not especially clever or resourceful, just dogged and honest. He fights well but not invincibly, and his best suggestion for dealing with a bomb scare is to let the device blow up with as little damage as possible.
You’ve got to swallow a lot to believe he could be an air marshal: He’s an alcoholic ex-cop (drummed out of the force) thrown into a severe depression by the death of his daughter and the downward spiral of his life. But once you accept that he has the badge and gun, you’re in for an exciting trip.
Almost all of the film takes place on a flight from New York to London. Halfway across the ocean, Marks starts to get texts saying passengers will die on a fixed schedule, unless he can convince the airline to wire $150 million into an account – which turns out to be in his name. He’s being set up as a desperate, bitter “hijacker” with nothing to lose.
When the reason for the scheme gets revealed, it’s not quite satisfying. (There are actually two reasons, one more likely than the other.) Yet a crew of writers and Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, who worked with Neeson on the 2011 “Unknown,” do a first-rate job of spreading suspicion among the characters: Even a stalwart flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) and a passenger who seems sympathetic (Julianne Moore) come in for their share.
The producers have had luck in their casting: They signed Dockery before she blew up on “Downton Abbey,” Corey Stoll before he did the same on “House of Cards” and Lupita Nyong’o before she earned an Oscar nomination for “12 Years a Slave.” Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Omar Metwally and Anson Mount are among other folks who may be taunting Marks.
Neeson himself can still show solid acting chops. He reportedly once turned down the role of James Bond because he didn’t want to be typecast as the star of action movies. (Pierce Brosnan took it.)
He has since been typecast as one: He’s been in junk such as “The A-Team,” “Battleship” and the “Titans” films, not to mention a wide variety of lone-avenger stories. The days of “Schindler’s List” and even “Kinsey” are long gone. But the remnants of an actor remain, and “Non-Stop” gives him as good a chance as any these days to let his emotions loose nearly as often as his fists.