As Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) sits in his car in the opening moments of Non-Stop, we can see a keen checklist of tropes and cliché carried out. He does it for his daughter. We know little about him. It is raining. But the brooding angles and fixation on the tired and weary face of this once youthful action star are meaningful and tightly choreographed. There are moments of genuine, emotional understanding of this washed-up air marshal, and while the action genre is not ultimately known for its ability to relate engaged emotions to a thriller that finds itself thousands of feet in the air. But a thriller is only as strong as the action it dishes out along the way.
Non-Stop provides a few great, lengthy scenes of clear-cut action. Its thrills are bled directly into the narrative. It is a film that wishes to spin so many different directions and desires for the story, that it is near impossible to keep track of who is sane and who is attempting to blow up a plane for a big cash injection. Crossed wires are intentional and effective. What we learn about these characters, primarily through the lingering camera and the unintentional hot-headedness is magnificent. All the stylings of the thriller are present, but they are lavish and well-explored. They are not just tools and tropes, but effective utilisations and understandings of what makes an entertained audience tick. Confidence in so many narrative threads is key. Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll give us good reason to trust in the technique.
But as this variety of devilishly evil characters make themselves known; it is unclear where the direction wants to place them. Jaume Collet-Serra is comfortable in the directing chair, but the pieces of his puzzle soon fly through the skies with a real lack of cohesion. Mysterious characters are inevitable, but when setting up the scene and those on board this doomed flight, he fails to remember that not every character can be unknowable. Doing so means there is nobody for an audience to latch onto. These issues are circumvented, thankfully, with strong technical merits. Collet-Serra has an eye for both detail and effective visual stylings. Those moody lights that bring a sombre touch to the high-octane energy are a nice blend, and thankfully they do not shine too brightly on the motives of villain or hero too often.
“Flying is really quite fun,” Marks reassures a young passenger. While that may be true for some, it is not for Marks or those around him. Neeson has done it all. He has conquered baddies on many forms of public transport. His fellow frequent flyers are disposable and are adapted well to the moody lighting, the well-rounded tensions and the finely tuned ensemble’s character dynamics. Non-Stop is, as its title would suggest, non-stop. Tense from its very first moments, Collet-Serra uses this claustrophobic, high-flying venture to create considerable tension and breeds a lack of trust between the characters. It is soaked in a desire to create tension through characters that lack trust and respect for their fellow man, and for some on that flight, it is their undoing.