Formulaic though it may be, Non-Stop is wildly entertaining: an action thriller with a whodunit
twist that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s not exactly seamless; you
can practically picture the filmmakers plotting out their “story beats” one by
one. Yet the finished product is slick and surprising at every turn, and Liam
Neeson hits all the right notes in the leading role, as an air marshal with skeletons
in his closet. Original? No. Effective? Yes.
With the exception of an airport prologue and a brief wrapup, the entire movie takes place aboard a trans-Atlantic flight. An apparent terrorist manages to hack into Neeson’s smartphone and begins making deadly threats. He or she seems to know everything that’s going on, not only on the aircraft but in Neeson’s private life. Who can it be, and what are they after? All I can say is that it’s unlikely anyone will figure out who’s responsible. Not only is there a surfeit of red herrings, but we aren’t given enough information to make an educated guess.
The screenplay, credited to John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle, might best be described as shameless: it leaves no stone unturned in establishing Neeson’s backstory, setting up human-interest sidebars, flipping our expectations and undoing stereotypes. With a first-rate supporting cast led by Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Anson Mount, Linus Roache, Omar Metwally, and Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o, every role is perfectly realized, from a sympathetic flight attendant to a hotheaded passenger.
The only thing that doesn’t work in Non-Stop is the “reveal” and ultimate explanation at the end. It’s wordy, clumsy, and unbelievable. But when a film has entertained you and held you in its grip so long, you may be willing to forgive this contrivance.
I would call this solid, mainstream Hollywood entertainment—except that it’s French-financed and directed by Barcelona-born Jaume Collet-Serra, with visual effects outsourced to Vancouver and India. Our country can lay claim to a number of the actors (including naturalized citizen Liam Neeson) and the always-commanding title design and visual treatment by Kyle Cooper. And, let’s face it, Hollywood movies invented the template that still holds up in multinational moviemaking such as this.