Liam Neeson’s latest offering, Non-Stop, stands at the top of the box office numbers for a reason. This suspense-action drama has a solid cast of B-list actors who deliver solid performances to a tightly-plotted script.
The story tells the tale of a struggling Air Marshal who receives mysterious text messages in his phone threatening to kill passengers. The tarnished hero sets out to stop the bad guy with a quest to find the bad guy and save the plane’s passengers. But can he succeed when his damaged reputation means even the flight crew does not completely trust him?
Liam Neeson is the perfect choice for the lead, one of the bright crop of aging actors who challenge the cult of youth and beauty by delivering solid heroic performances despite advancing years. In fact, Neeson’s age and weathered appearance makes the world-weary hero all the more sympathetic. Julianne Moore, who plays opposite him, also shows that there is more to feminine beauty and power than a youthful glamor.
The story by John Richardson and Chris Roach nicely dodges the pitfalls of the genre, and it is a tricky bar. Closed-room mysteries require plausible explanations at the end, how it was done, and why. Halfway through the movie I thought there were plot holes I could drive a semi through, and then discovered I was being led exactly where the writers (with Ryan Engle assisting with the screenplay) wanted me to be. Even the most high-tech or improbable discovery makes sense by the tense final moments.
There was more action in this film than I expected by half, and it was nicely done. Liam Neeson has always been available for a good butt-whooping, and he delivers it in claustrophobic glory since the tall actor is super-sized for even a relatively expansive plane set. This is not a remake of Passenger 57, either. No kung-fu superstars show off impossible prowess.
Touching on Jungian analysis of the film, the characterizations were great! Neeson’s marshal, Bill Marks, has his characteristics painted on the people around him in rich highlights. Julianne Moore play Jen Summers, a weary passenger who reflects Marks’ old scars inside and out. There are strong hero types who show what Marks could be, and what we are glad he is not. There are trickster characters who turn into something unexpected at just the right time, from friend to foe, or ally, and back with just enough reason to keep one interested. That is a delightful touch because it adds to the suspense and drama of mystery. A closed-room story must rely on a small cast to fill many rolls where larger stories can bring in lesser characters and send them away with ease. (If you have seen a sci-fi drama about a small ship, and it fell stale, nine times out of ten it was because of a problem with characters. The fewer people on stage, the deeper and more interesting they had better be.)
I greatly sympathized with Marks’ struggle for the passengers, as it turned into a struggle for honor and the courage to face increasing odds increasingly alone. He undergoes a masterful hero’s journey that travels from seeming victories to setbacks and back again.
As a Christian I like stories with a touch of redemption. I like my underdogs to turn out the top dog, and I like hope with my drama, not just for the story question but that the characters involved are better people walking off-screen then they were when we met them.
Folks, this film delivers. I highly recommend it.