"Collet-Serra effectively makes us, the audience, just as trapped on this plane as its passengers."
Twenty-years-ago, Liam Neeson was in the running for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his exceptional performance in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. Now, in 2014, Neeson is known as a dime-a-dozen action star, rarely seen in frame without a gun in his hand, and known for delivering threatening monologues over the phone to people endangering the lives of him, his wife, or his ever-so-fragile daughter.
Many don't even know Neeson has been around for years and made his debut with action films in 2008 with the massive box office hit Taken, which followed with an abysmal sequel in 2012 bringing new meaning to the phrase "cash-grab." But with every mediocre effort, he brings something at least intriguing to the table with his growling-dialog, mean-mug, and incredibly convincing persona, even if he does play essentially the same action figure in all his films.
With Non-Stop, it's not only remarkable how effective Neeson himself can be but how effective the film is as a whole. The film centers on Neeson's Bill Marks, a Federal Air Marshall who begins receiving threatening text messages on a crowded plane from someone who says they will kill a passenger every twenty minutes until $150 million is deposited into a bank account. Through violent negotiations and cut-throat policies, Marks unintentionally makes himself out to be a hijacker to the passengers along with the mainstream media, even though his plans involve saving the plane and not corrupting or terrorizing it.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra and a trio of screenwriters bring this story to life the way it should be brought to life -- through the limitless wonders of tension-building and suspense. The suspense here is low-key and has a great auditory buildup throughout the picture, with softer music transitioning into louder, more blatant music from the beginning towards the end, infusing the picture with a nicely unsettling score.
Furthermore, Collet-Serra emphasizes the picture's sole-setting nicely, even if he and the writers don't give the actors much to work with in terms of their characters. I've consistently praised one-setting films for the reason that they frequently allow for character and human interest to take prominence in the film. With Non-Stop, however, Collet-Serra uses the opportunity for showcasing claustrophobia, especially during scenes involving negotiations and sometimes first-fights in the congested airport bathroom. By employing this element through tightly-framed shots and a variety of camera positions, Collet-Serra effectively makes us, the audience, just as trapped on this plane as its passengers.
Finally, it is to Jim May's credit that Non-Stop bears such a rare coherency, even during times of pure chaos. Returning to the bathroom-fight example, it is remarkable that a fight could take place in such a confined space let alone a fight that is also surprisingly clear and easy to follow. Throughout the film, May is careful and deliberate with the editing, and even with the third act's neverending array of madness, the film never becomes incoherent or difficult to follow.
One could easily criticize some of the stranger elements of Non-Stop easily (how is cell-phone reception on this plane so good, wouldn't most people have their smartphones on "airplane mode?"). However, Non-Stop has some astonishing technical and aesthetical features for such a mainstream American film in February.
Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film CriticShare: