An entertaining thriller let down by a stupefyingly illogical ending.
March 03, 2014
Let's be clear: it's fine for fictional movies to take certain liberties. Consider physics: bending bullets mid-flight was a playful idea in 2008's otherwise woeful Wanted, just as ducking them entirely provided an exhilarating and groundbreaking sequence in The Matrix. How does Superman actually fly? Air pressure and negative mass, apparently. Who really cares — it's fun and they commit to it.
Really, the only time you have to take movies to task is when they just get something categorically wrong. Like, wrong wrong; the opposite of right. If you've seen the trailer for Liam Neeson's new movie Non-Stop, you'll have seen the condemnable shot. As a 737 plummets towards the ocean, the pilot dramatically pulls back on the yoke like it's some sort of fighter jet and levels out the plane, occasioning a handgun to float skywards into the accepting hands of Neeson. Yes, 'up'. The gun floats up. Anybody who's ever flown before, or been in an elevator before, or moved on a planet with gravity before, knows how inertia works. It's Newton's first law. Not his 118th, which you could be forgiven for skipping. Not his second. His first.
Are we nitpicking? Is a movie to be disparaged because of a single shot? No; this is just a suitably representative case for illustrating why Non-Stop is largely non-good.
It begins with a shot of a gruff looking Liam Neeson, essentially because: Liam Neeson. Gone are the days of the nurturing single parent from Love Actually; now Neeson is all about the embodiment of grumpy. That characteristic was the perfect ingredient to 2008's Taken, but since then has felt increasingly platitudinous, pigeonholing a fine actor with proven range into a painfully narrow set of performances. In Non-Stop he's an alcoholic air marshal who — mid flight — is forced to deal with an anonymous blackmailer threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes until they receive their ransom.
Both the premise and its initial execution are actually quite compelling, handled in a way that's just plausible enough to be entertaining and even thrilling. The threatening text messages appear on screen a la the BBC's Sherlock series, providing a periodic 20 minute menace that gives Non-Stop its ominous momentum (Newton's 18th law, probably). There are also some decent performances put in by the supporting cast, including Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as passengers, and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years A Slave) and Linus Roache (Batman Begins) as crew. It's a whodunnit at 40,000 feet, and for most of the film you're genuinely invested in the mystery.
Such a shame, then, the way it ends. Fear not, there are no spoilers here, but suffice it to say the villain's motivation for the caper is stupefyingly illogical, and the final five minutes of dialogue contain just about every cliche in the book. There's an overwhelming sense of 'sure, why not?' to the writing; an unnecessary rush-job on what might well have been an excellent thriller had they just taken the time to imbue the finale with as much consideration as the setup.
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