Ever since the surprise hard-R action movie Taken (2008), Liam Neeson has emerged as one of the most unexpectedly popular action movie stars. Since then he has done action thrillers like Unknown (2011), Taken 2 (2012), The Grey (2011) and the blockbuster action movie reboot The A-Team (2010). Another movie in this same vein, Non-Stop (2014) is about a burnt out US Air Marshall with serious personal problems. On a routine flight he starts receiving text messages from an unknown sender who threatens to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if his demands aren’t met.
The action set pieces are relatively well done, however it is sometimes hard to admire the fight choreography. Since the Bourne films, no other movie has delivered the same degree of satisfying shaky-cam action cinematography. The film, it goes without saying, has a simple plot and story but it tries to add emotional back story and heft for a few characters. Needless to say it’s hard to take any of it seriously. The emotion is pure sentimentality and it feels forced and manipulative.
Liam Neeson gives the same performance that you have seen in his other recent action movies, acting aggressively against perceived perpetrators and softly with women and children. Although he does usually have a great screen presence, his performance in this film falls flat. The B-movie story and premise doesn’t give Neeson a solid, well rounded or even badass character. He spends most of the movie shouting orders and instructions without listening to reason from other characters (somewhat reminiscent of Taken 2). He is also surrounded by many talented actresses, the most prominent being Julianne Moore. She is given the meatiest supporting role but she is relegated to being a woman sidekick with no real agency of her own other than existing to help the male protagonist. Lupita Nyong'o, an up-and-coming actress who won critical acclaim for her role in 12 Years A Slave (2013) has nothing to do and Michelle Dockery, of Downtown Abbey fame, has a slightly meatier role but is also wasted. It is obvious that the film is a Liam Neeson vehicle but in the end even he is as underserved by the plot as much as the rest of the cast.
The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, also directed Neeson’s Unknown and does a decent job here. However, the story and pacing of the film are relatively off resulting in a boring experience. Most of the plot development is unsurprising and the twists are largely uninspired. The only interesting element in the film was the commentary on the post 9/11 paranoia and sensitive security measures that could be read as either a criticism or simply an apolitical commentary. At times, the actions of the US Air Marshall are shocking and rather appalling and seem to be an indictment of the security institutions in the US. One could argue that the way the interactions between the Air Marshall and the passengers/flight attendants plays out during the course of the film is a chronological account of how the US security state apparatus and its relationship with the population has evolved. This element of the film may merely only prove interesting in my opinion.
Moreover, the main problem with the film is that it doesn’t successfully treat the contained space in which the story takes place. The plane feels like a rather large open space and therefore claustrophobia is hardly ever felt. The idea of Liam Neeson trapped in a plane in mid-air finding and fighting bad guys looks great on paper but the execution is severely lacking. What we are left with is a muddled action thriller that devolves into parody and dullness. For all the talent attached to the project there is a severe lack in results. If you wish to see a decent Liam Neeson thriller, a re-watch of Unknown would be a better choice.