(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
Liam Neeson has carved himself an illusion of a retirement plan that works admirably well for him. His films in this phase appear the same. He appears to be donning the same roles with a shade or two different. The aging warlord, the seemingly past his prime assassin, the too-old-for-this-routine agent and more. But beyond all these definitions he pretty much plays himself and brings such unquestionable sincerity and conviction to these roles that it is tough to brush them away. Come to think of it, they can be brushed away. These are not great films or great franchises. This is not Schindler’s List, Star Wars (however bad a prequel, it is still Star Wars), Nolan’s Batman. This is The A-Team, Taken and its sequels, Unknown and now from the same director – Jaume Collet-Serra – Non-Stop.
A coincidence but Non-Stop comes in the wake of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight story. This is regulation hijack drama with its lead star up against the rest of the film. Neeson plays Federal Air Marshall Bill Marks who’s sent messages from an unknown member. The request is simple – transfer x amount of dollars to an account or someone on the plane will die – every twenty minutes. This maybe standard fare but it takes some amount of control and flair to execute. The action and drama are confined in a single aircraft. It’s a couple of restrooms, the business class and the economy class and the cockpit. The lead actor against rest of the crew and passengers and placing every bit of set piece within these spaces is quite a task. For about two acts, Jaume Collet-Serra holds his own selling us the thrill. The action is suitably random and unchoreographed, the suspense is built in a low key fashion. He lights the interiors of the flight with grainy bluish tinge and goes for a number of handheld takes between aisles and cockpits and steward rest areas. It is quite fascinating at first. After all that great build up the third act is a letdown. The film takes a turn for an unconvincing hurried end where the execution is more problematic than the events or their believability.
Non-Stop is a film that doesn’t make a big deal about its stellar star cast. There is Julianne Moore as one of the passengers and a host of other big names from TV. There is Michelle Dockery of Downtown Abbey and Corey Stoll of House of Cards. There is the recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o of 12 Years A Slave fame. But the film is a Liam Neeson the action star outing. It’s him from the beginning frame to end. What else do you need from a star with such screen presence? A little turbulence in the end but Non-Stop delivers the kicks.