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Film review: NON-STOP, from Built For Speed

Liam Neeson’s latest film Non-stop will no doubt have had action junkies salivating. The no-nonsense title and a poster that features Neeson blasting away with a pistol in the middle of an aeroplane cabin, suggests a Taken-style parade of relentless and mindless action.  Those who delight in cinematic carnage may, however, be slightly peeved to discover that, aside from a couple of shootings and beatings, this film is more slow-burn psychological thriller and Agatha Christie-style murder mystery than kill-fest. 

Neeson plays former cop turned Air Marshall and closet alcoholic, Bill Marks whose life has been in a downward spiral since his daughter’s death.  While on duty on a flight from New York London he starts receiving sinister text messages telling him that if the airline doesn’t transfer $150 million into a designated account, passengers will start dying.   As Marshall Bill attempts to uncover the texting menace, the crew and the passengers begin to question Bill’s mental stability and ask whether he might be the villain.

As a film about a resourceful hero battling terrorists aboard a plane, Non-Stop evokes inevitable comparisons with Wesley Snipes’ Passenger 57.   Neeson’s character Bill, however, seems to connect more directly with a desperate and uncertain lone hero like Gary Cooper in High Noon.  Also, as an attempt to solve a deadly riddle aboard a plane, the film at times recalls Jodie Foster’s Flight Plan but fortunately without the lapses in logic.  As a whodunit the film cleverly plays with our perceptions and pre-conceptions of different characters aboard the plane as it offers up potential suspects.

As he did in Unknown (which also starred Neeson), director Jaume Collet-Serra creates tension and intrigue within the bounds of a pulpy genre piece.  He makes effective use of post-911 paranoia and the confined and precarious environment of a plane in mid-air.  

There could almost be a cinematic sub-genre known as the Liam Neeson film in which the superbly gruff Irish actor plays, a troubled, man with deadly skills and a dubious claim to authority who has been left embittered by tragedy and a traumatic past.  With Bill Marks barely distinguishable from Neeson’s over-protective father in Taken, Non-Stop slots right into the Neeson film sub-genre.  Familiar as this role is, Neeson is still thrilling to watch as he brings a wonderful mix of intimidating physicality and paternal warmth that few actors can match.

The only problem with the emphasis on Liam is that the name supporting cast are left with underwritten roles. Both Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) as a flight attendant and Julianne Moore as a mysterious passenger are the nominated female sidekicks but neither of them has enough to do in the film for their character to have much impact.  Lupita N’yongo who was so memorable in 12 Years A Slave is left with a minor and perfunctory role as a flight attendant.  Scoot McNairy is briefly impressive, however, in the sort of sweaty nerd role Paul Dano normally plays.

The plane flight battle against the murderous fiend is a well-worn genre and clichés abound in this film particularly toward the end as the action starts to go over the top. For the most part, though, this is a nail biting drama and an engrossing character study of a man on the edge.

Nick’s rating: ***

CJ’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Action/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jaume Collet-Serra.

Release date: 27th Feb 2014

Running time:  106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show 

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