Until I see a film such as this, which revolves around an air marshal, I never really think about the fact that there is an officer aboard the majority of flights I take. The air marshal in Non-Stop is Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), a down-and-out alcoholic who is emotionally unstable and just so happens to be an air marshal aboard a direct flight from New York to London. Shortly after reaching altitude, Marks begins receiving anonymous texts in which a passenger threatens to kill one person in the airplane every 20 minutes if $150 million is not transferred to a special account. What we have here is your good ole locked room mystery.
And so our journey begins.
The first act, if you will, takes place on the ground with Marks arriving at the airport, going through security and boarding the plane. I feel quite obligated to let you know that the very first shot of the film is composed of tightly-focused beads of water framed on a window, followed by a long (and do I mean long) focus pull to Marks sitting in his truck. I will go ahead and chalk this up as a failed attempt at an artsy exposition, followed by a highly mobile camera traipsing through the New York airport (presumably JFK, however, irrelevant) which makes one feel the need for Dramamine well before the flight departs. I have nothing against shallow focus, long pulls or even mobile cameras when presented tastefully, but the first act in comparison to the rest of the film feels like director Jaume Collet-Serra gave the camera to a few green interns who venerated the prologue of Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988).
Once Marks confirms the threat is not a hoax, the situation is already grave. He is being framed as the terrorist, losing his identity, reminiscent of Collet-Serra’s 2011 film Unknown also with star Neeson. Grasping at straws to identify his terrorist passenger, Marks is made to rely and trust on several people whom he does not know. His trust is reluctant and wavering, but his morals are not. He is in charge of the passenger’s safety whether his badge and gun are in his possession or not; his (self-given) orders are to keep the passengers safe.
Though there are no references to religion or God, and the take-away is slightly shallow, there is a theme of moral utilitarianism that is intriguing throughout the rising action. That is, Marks does what he does because it will save the most people, and the terrorists do the same in order to reveal a greater weakness in security (alcoholic, emotionally unstable air marshal), thus tightening future security and saving future lives. So who is right? I think the writers John Richardson and Christopher Roach stumbled upon this theme, but the camera was not able to capture the very essence of this moral struggle.
Non-Stop certainly has its share of claustrophobic adrenaline-filled moments as well as “red herrings.” The hasty movement from scenario to scenario leaves little time to invest in any single character other than Air Marshal Bill Marks, Passenger Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and Steward Nancy (Michelle Dockery). Perhaps Collet-Serra wants us to be as apprehensive in trusting the passengers as Marks stays throughout the film.
Non-Stop is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.” I give Non-Stop 7/10 stars.
Photo credit: Universal Pictures