When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.
5 Things You Need to Know About…
1) As the recent 21st Century early calendar year movie release schedule has come to dictate, Liam Neeson, the sixty-one-year young modern movie action star, will star in a movie where his character gets to show a motley crew of brooding, ill-advised international bad guys, wolves, and unknown kidnappers his specific set of skills. For the bad guys nefarious, criminal aspirations this is the worst of news – one can expect beatings will be taken. For the audience of such films looking for a mindless and purely entertaining respite from awards season seriousness, Liam Neeson has come to deliver punch after punch. Non-Stop, a classically compelling (in a mid 90s In the Line of Fire/Air Force One kind of way) thriller featuring Neeson as an United States Air Marshal attempting to save every “character actor” soul on board of an increasingly dangerous transatlantic flight, is the best of these “Neeson saves the day” pictures since Taken and a most enjoyable, appreciatively plausible (my scornful eyes are squarely on you, Taken 2), “who done it” thinker of a ride.
2) Much of the success of Non-Stop is driven by its “Hitchcockian,” “everyone could be a suspect,” “Agatha Christie mystery-like” suspense. Plot twist after red herring reveal after bad guy profiling tropes keep you fumbling guesses of culpability until the climactic end. The screenplay team, led by John R. Williams, create a variety of potential guilty party narratives that all could work. Oftentimes the journeys on mystery thrillers can be fun, but once you get to the last chapter, the resolution comes out an unrealistic mess. Non-Stop manages to avoid these pitfalls by giving the audience a healthy dose of dramatic irony filled up by the unapologetic first person point of view of Neeson’s Bill Marks character. We never doubt his motivations (as many rowdy passengers, TSA agents, and F16 pilots do), freeing us to spend the movie suspect hunting alongside Neeson’s native 6’4” Belfast frame.
3) If you are going to spend an entire movie with a finite group of characters on a plane facing imminent danger, you best fill it, cockpit to coach, with some reliable talent. With Julianne Moore (aging, both in roles and in looks, so beautifully) and Corey Stoll (after two seasons, his performance is still the best thing about House of Cards) as passengers, Michelle Dockery (I promise, 2014 will be the year I finally indulge in Downton Abbey) and Academy Award winner (!!!!) Lupita Nyong’o as flight attendants, and Linus Roache (Thomas Wayne and Liam Neeson’s Batman Begins co-star) and Jason Butler Harner (a “that guy TV award” candidate) as pilots, your chances of making a successful movie are greatly enhanced.
4) Liam Neeson does not disappoint in Non-Stop (at this point, not that anyone would expect him to). This action star niche, third act of a career reinvention is just remarkable. Although he continues to carry the trustworthy gravitas of earlier performances like Oscar Schindler and Qui-Gon Jinn, seemingly each of his recent characters have an infectious “don’t mess with me, I have nothing to lose” abandon that has transformed him into the go-to (Neeson is now a United States citizen) symbol of the American Action Hero (as this week’s SNL cold open suggests, Mr. Putin). Neeson wears this distinction with a power, weight (his height only helps), and earned credibility that his predecessors (Stallone, Willis) may not have ever achieved. This obviously kind and generous (as every interview I have seen him do suggests) widower dad of two boys has become our real-life Superman. Be warned fictional bad guys everywhere – you don’t want to mess with a character played by Liam Neeson. (Even his late night talk show talking point wrath directed at New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposed policies to destroy the horse and buggy industry gains traction through his action movie star cred. You want to see the stables? He’ll show you the stables.)
5) Non-Stop is a unabashedly fun, exhilarating, throwback movie thriller. You are taken on a suspenseful ride through turbulent twists and turns in which you can only trust two things: everyone is a suspect and you never want to mess with Liam Neeson’s specific set of skills.