*This review was originally published on The Film Experience.
In the opening scene of NON-STOP, federal air marshal Bill Marks is sitting in his car in the parking lot of the New York airport before he enters the building to take his flight. As he fidgets with his phone, making one last call before departing, he turns the radio on. The radio voices just happen to be discussing the issue of airport security in the post 9/11 world. Fast forward to ninety minutes later when the mystery of the film is solved and the dead and alive are separated and the television is on. The newscaster, mic in hand, looks us straight in the eyes and, under the guise of national news, explains what we have just witnessed. She clarifies the twists of the film with sincerity and merrily wraps up by tying everything with a bow. As the title suggests, subtlety is not Non-Stop’s strongest suit, but it is precisely the combination of ridiculous and grandiose that makes it such an enthralling experience.
Liam Neeson, in the latest episode of the subtextual franchise which reinvents him as America’s unlikelies action star, stars as Bill Marks (that name!) an air marshal who has been assigned to a New York to London flight. Also on the plane: Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) a seemingly nervous woman intent on finding a window seat – she ends up in the one next to agent Marks, a school teacher named Bowen (Scoot McNairy), an NYPD officer named Austin (Corey Stoll), Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o as flight attendants, and a seven year old girl called Becca, whose first interaction with Marks screams "Emotional Subplot!" thousands of miles ahead of its destination.
In an introductory conversation between Jen and Bill, it transpires that she is sheepish about revealing her occupation and he suffers from avophobia. Immediately afterwards, Marks receives a message on his secured, government provided cell phone. The message indicates that every 20 minutes, a passenger is going to be killed on the plane unless $150m is transferred to a certain bank account. Though this seems like an improbable plan given the closed environment of the plane, the first victim loses his life before Marks’s timer goes off exactly at 20 minutes. Marks tries to keep this hidden from the passengers, but subsequent accidents make this impossible. Meanwhile, he tries to convince his supervisors that the threats must not be taken lightly, but the only passenger they become suspicious of is the only man who legally carried a gun on the plane: Federal Marshal Marks.
A ludicrously contrived plot, yes, but the twists are perfectly worked out. For a narrative that hinges entirely on how the mystery is solved, rather than where the film ends, the writers avoid every possible pitfall. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any holes in its logic since it's a slice of Swiss cheese throughout. Yet, Non-Stop is successful because it stops just short of taking itself seriously while delivering an edge of your seat whodunit. The trick is in understanding that none of this could happen in the real world, but embracing it wholeheartedly, balls to the wall.