How does one explain the unlikely transformation of Liam Neeson from heavyweight Oscar-nominated actor to B-movie action star?
One explanation is that he simply stopped caring about the quality and prestige of the projects to which he signed on. Another is that the 2008 thriller Taken, which is where the transformation began, is a better film than it looks. Another is that Neeson is just really good at this sort of thing.
When called upon to play an alcoholic burn-out, as in this film about a US air marshall involved in cat-and-mouse games with a terrorist aboard a transatlantic passenger flight, the pained look in his eyes looks real. And unlike other actors who might have played the role in previous years, Harrison Ford, say, or Will Smith, Neeson doesn't project the need to be liked. Which means that the audience is prepared to believe that his character is prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Non-Stop isn't a bad example of its type of film; merely an unexceptional one. It isn't as tense a plane-based thriller as Red Eye, or as exciting as Air Force One, but is at least in the same class as, say, Flightplan. Too much of the plot hinges on an uncinematic text-message conversation between the air marshall and the unknown bad guy.
And the bad guy's motivation is implausible and his master plan impossibly convoluted. Still, it's the sort of film in which Neeson's air marshall does what he needs to do with a steely resolve. And so efficiently that he is still able to make time before the bomb explodes to tell a comforting story to the frightened little girl in seat 1B.