Saturday, 19 April 2014
Directed by Juame Collet-Serra; Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Modern day action man Liam Neeson is back in Non-Stop, a fairly generic mystery thriller set almost entirely aboard a transatlantic flight from New York to London where Neeson must root out a terrorist who has vowed to kill a passenger every twenty minutes until his demands are met.
Even if the plot is a little contrived, it does have unexpected twists and turns; including the methods through which the killer carries out his murders. There is plenty of suspense, and Neeson bring his natural gravitas to the role.
It may seem grandiose to apply such analysis to an obvious B-movie such as this, but there’s something elegant in its adherence to the classical unities of drama, which are rarely explored in mainstream works. Indeed, the film is almost set in real time, each twenty minute increment of the film roughly corresponding to each twenty minute ultimatum given by the antagonist.
The initial sequence in the airport is an engaging opening; a collage of disorientating images which emphasise the disconnection Neeson’s character feels from the world around him. Once aboard the aircraft, we are treated to a less subtle series of shots introducing us to the motley crew of passengers, who invite suspicion with their mysterious aside glances. You can tell already that these characters will later become the major suspects in the investigation.
Neeson’s as forlorn and enigmatic as ever, though his character is unlikely: a jaded alcoholic US Air Marshal who’s terrified of flying, when he really needs all his wits about him. In contrast to other films which cast him as an American with no explanation, Non-Stop takes a rare opportunity to justify his Northern Irish accent by listing his birthplace as Belfast, and even making a small plot point out of the revelation.
Indeed, despite the very American themes which ultimately come to define the picture, this is an inspiringly international affair. It was produced primarily as a French-American collaboration, but helmed by Juame Collet-Serra the Spanish director of Neeson’s previous action outing, the Berlin-set Unknown (2011). In addition to the Northern Irish leading man, there’s a British vein running throughout by virtue of the plane itself being a British staffed flight to London, providing the chance to cast some UK talent as well as some Americans feigning over the top faux accents.
When he’s not working furiously against the clock, Neeson’s character humanised with a few compulsive characteristics: a shameless tug at the heartstrings each time Neeson interacts with the terrified child aboard the flight, a weakness for smoking in aeroplane toilets, presumably as a stress relief, and a ribbon he ties around his fingers during takeoff.
Naturally, the latter provides an icebreaker, sparking a conversation with fellow traveller Jen (Julianne Moore). The ribbon is also an all important connection to the character’s daughter, whose story will later become an important plot point, paralleling the sadness in Neeson’s own life.
The cabin lights are dimmed, bathing everything in an ominous blue colour palette. The atmosphere is emphasised by the slow and intoxicating soundtrack, under which lies the heavy throb of the aeroplane engines. Though the wall of sound can become grating at times, this weaves an appropriate tapestry, undoubtedly highlighted by the complete absence of dialogue during this first stage of the flight as Neeson converses with his unseen adversary for the first time through an instant messaging conversation; a thoroughly twenty first century touch.
Non-Stop is nothing special, but it delivers a competent if uncomplicated thriller, even if it does take some liberties with our disbelief, and indulges in some eye-rollingly gratuitous slow motion action shots near the end. Still, it comes in to land a few increments above trite.