“The Hijacking Was Just the Beginning.”
In the wake of 9/11, George W. Bush increased the number of Federal Air Marshals from around 30 to more than 600 to travel incognito on flights over US air space in an attempt to restore public confidence in flying. If any of those 600 are anything like the two depicted in Jaume Collet-Serra’s tense but contrived thriller Non-Stop they’re not going to put many nervous travellers’ minds at rest. One of them is a morose alcoholic on the verge of a mental breakdown, while the other is using the fact that his position doesn’t require him to undergo the same kind of rigorous security checks as the rest of us to smuggle cocaine. Somehow, I can’t see Non-Stop appearing on American Airlines’ play list anytime soon…
The alcoholic guardian of the skies is Bill Marks (Liam Neeson — The Grey, The Dark Knight Rises), who is carrying the kind of psychological baggage that would earn him an excess-weight penalty if he had to check it in before departure. He’s coped so far by resorting to drip-feed alcoholism which leaves him just about capable of carrying out his duties. Ordered to travel on a flight to London against his will, he reluctantly settles in for an uneventful journey, with only the possibility of some in-flight conversation with pretty redhead Jen Summers (Julianne Moore — Children of Men, Carrie) as consolation. However, as soon as the flight is in the air he receives a text message from someone on board the ‘plane informing him that unless $150 million is deposited in a given bank account within 20 minutes a passenger will be killed. If, after a further 20 minutes, there’s still no money in the aforementioned account a second passenger will be murdered, and so on.
Marks tries to keep a lid on the death threats in order to avoid panic amongst the passengers, but he receives precious little help from his superiors at the Transportation Security Administration when it comes to light that the account in question has been opened in the name of one Bill Marks. Hmmm. As Marks himself points out, he’d have to be a major-league idiot to open an account to receive ransom money in his own name, but the TSA don’t seem to share his scepticism, so he has to rely on the help of the crew and fellow marshal Jack Hammond (Anson Mount) to find the true culprit. It’s not long, however, before he discovers that Hammond is actually in league with whoever is sending the texts, and after a fraught but highly improbable fight in the cramped confines of one of the airplane’s loos, he’s forced to kill his colleague. Now Marks has even fewer potential allies on board, and that 20 minute deadline is drawing nearer…
It seems that the price we must pay these days for a decent measure of suspense from a Hollywood movie is that the movie’s plot will disregard all pretence of logic and realism in order to deliver that suspense. Non-Stop has all the necessary components for a quality suspense thriller — innocents in peril, a confined arena, a damaged hero, etc., — but the longer it goes on the more far-fetched its plot becomes and the quicker the implausibilities begin to stack up. The hijackers’ plot is so convoluted that it actually relies on one of them being able to use the toilet nearest to the ‘plane’s cockpit at predefined times; it also has one of the hijackers — whose identities we don’t learn until the big reveal in the last fifteen minutes — deliberately helping Marks not once but twice. Was this all supposed to be part of the hijacker’s intricately detailed plot? Or was it just a fraudulent way for the screenwriters to ramp up the tension while throwing the audience a few red herrings? I know what I think, but I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves.
Liam Neeson is as reliable as always in a part that could well have been written with him in mind. He’s not a great actor, but he’s a strangely comforting presence in this type of movie. You know you probably won’t be watching a classic, but you can also be reasonably confident that you haven’t plumped for a complete dud when you see his name in the credits. Julianne Moore also lends some class to proceedings in a role which is by turns sympathetic and annoying, but the rest of the cast are fairly anonymous — apart, that is from Jason Butler Harner as the ‘plane’s co-pilot. Harner’s British accent is a bit wonky to say the least, but even a genuine British actor would struggle to convince with the lines he’s given to speak. Had they bothered to cast a British actor he would, no doubt, have put the screenwriter straight on just how we Brits talk. But then the co-pilot isn’t a villain, so why cast a Brit in the role?