I will see Liam Neeson in anything, which doesn't mean I want to. So it was a relief to find that Non-Stop -- Taken meets Speed on a plane, with a dash of Agatha Christie -- was as breezily entertaining as a commercial action thriller is supposed to be. As yet another character who is emotionally wounded but impossibly strong (physically and psychologically), Neeson plays Bill Marks, an air marshal who starts getting texts during the flight threatening to kill someone every twenty minutes. And, as we soon learn, they're coming from inside the plane!
Yes, it's hokey, but Neeson is surrounded by a cast as good, and as ready to pick up a big-budget salary, as he is. Julianne Moore plays his seatmate, who has insisted on the window seat; is she up to something? Michelle Dockery leaves Lady Mary back at Downton Abbey to play the flight attendant Marks calls on for help; has he misjudged her? Corey Stoll (the dearly missed Peter Russo from House of Cards) is a passenger, Linus Roche the pilot, and Lupita Nyong'o a flight attendant with so little screen time that we know she was cast before 12 Years a Slave arrived.
The cleverness of the film rests on its air of a country-house mystery: one of these recognizable people might be the killer, who finds some unexpectedly deadly ways to attack in a small space. Without going over the top, all the actors give it their most serious attention, as if this were a drama that might actually, in some plausible world, happen.
Neeson isn't an action star for nothing, though, so eventually
Marks is forced to make some drastic moves, from attacking a villain in a
lavatory to . . . lots of other action-y
things that won't be shocking but are well-orchestrated by director Jaume
Collet-Serra. I'm especially surprised at how fluid the film is, considering
that Collet-Serra also directed the nearly unwatchable Unknown (2011), the least of the Neeson thrillers, with January
Jones as his wife.
As Neeson told me when I talked to him about The Grey, his pursued by wolves thriller, of course he does action movies for the money. (You can see the video interview here.) Under those circumstances, they're a lot better than you ever expect them to be.
Still, it's good to know that he has been cast in a serious,
ambitious film, Martin Scorsese's Silence. And if you missed his interview with Anderson
Cooper on 60 Minutes, take a look. He
talks eloquently about the death of his wife, Natasha Richardson, and ... about
doing action movies for the money.