Non-Stop, film review: Liam Neeson's tough guy act is on target in this suspenseful drama


(12A) Jaume Collet-Serra, 106 mins Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy

Alfred Hitchcock famously distinguished between "surprise" and "suspense". If a bomb goes off without forewarning, that's surprise. If we, as an audience, are tipped off in advance that the timer is running and that the bomb will explode at precisely one o'clock, that is suspense.

The Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra and his writers Chris Roach and John Richardson take a very literal approach to Hitchcock's definition of suspense. Again and again in the fitfully entertaining but wildly manipulative Non-Stop, we see stopwatches being set.

Michelle Dockery interview: Downton's Lady Mary talks starring with Liam Neeson

Again and again, we are warned that catastrophe is imminent. "In exactly 20 minutes, I am going to kill someone on this plane," the unknown villain tells us in a text. That is only the first of the timed warnings that are dotted throughout the movie.

The film-makers borrow randomly from 1970s disaster movies and from pot-boiling, Agatha Christie-style whodunits. You sense that they've been through a thorough checklist of plot elements and character types before the plane has even been allowed to take off. Yes, there is a doctor aboard. Yes, among the passengers is a doe-eyed little girl hugging a teddy bear. Poison? Yes. Bomb? Yes. Airplane captain flirting with glamorous flight attendant? Yes. Parachute? Yes. Couple having sex in business class? Yes. Turbulence? Yes. People vomiting and dying because of eating airline food? No.

Non-Stop is not a film that will appeal to the airline industry. In its lesser moments, it seems like just another crudely mechanical and increasingly preposterous thriller set during a particularly hellish plane journey. However, true to the title, it does indeed strike a relentless narrative tempo. There are at least hints that Collet-Serra is trying to push beyond the genre's conventions.

It helps that the 61-year-old lead, Liam Neeson, has a gravitas and a brooding sense of melancholy that younger action stars often lack. Just so we know that he is on the washed-up side, he is shown here early on stirring his paper cup of whisky with his toothbrush. His character, Bill Marks, is a US Air Marshal who has been traumatised by a family tragedy. Marks has taken to drink, is full of self-pity and (somewhat ridiculously, given his job) has an acute fear of flying. Initially, he seems closer to Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, Billy Wilder's famous 1945 drama about alcoholism, than he does to Jason Bourne.

It's a mystery as to why an actress as accomplished as Julianne Moore would take a role as skimpily written as the one she has here (Universal Pictures) It's a mystery as to why an actress as accomplished as Julianne Moore would take a role as skimpily written as the one she has here (Universal Pictures)
Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in Unknown, sets up the film in intriguing fashion. We see the hungover Marks making his way on to the plane, eyeing up fellow passengers, who come in all ages and all guises. He is expecting a routine flight and even makes small talk with Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), a glamorous but aloof woman whose yearning to sit in a window seat seems suspicious.

When it all gets too much for Neeson, his default behaviour is to lock himself in the bathroom and have a fag. At times here, we half suspect that he might be as delusional as the insomniac office worker in David Fincher's Fight Club, an Air Marshal seeing phantoms where none exist. Even more intriguingly, there are moments when Neeson doesn't seem quite sure whether he is the hero or the villain. "Control is an illusion," he is told by his antagonist. Crossing the Atlantic with a maniac in their midst, 40,000 feet in the air, he and the passengers crammed into the plane are powerless to influence events.

It is a testament to Neeson that he is able to give us so much sense of his character's inner life in an action movie that is otherwise so one-dimensional. He has a wounded-lion quality as he blunders up and down the aisles.

The rest of the cast have largely thankless and underwritten roles. Michelle Dockery is a doughty, quick-thinking flight attendant. She at least has a few lines of dialogue. That's more than her fellow attendant Lupita Amondi Nyong'o, so striking in 12 Years a Slave but shamefully underused here. It is likewise a mystery as to why an actress as accomplished as Julianne Moore would take a role as skimpily written as the one she has here.

There are fleeting references to 9/11 and the terror it unleashed in the American public. Not that Collet-Serra wants to probe too far into the politics of fear. This is ultimately a fairground ride of a movie in which the aim is to excite and terrify audiences, not to provoke too much thought.

Michelle Dockery plays a doughty, quick-thinking flight attendant (Universal Pictures) Michelle Dockery plays a doughty, quick-thinking flight attendant (Universal Pictures)
Thanks to the cryptic but threatening text messages he has been receiving on his secure phone, Neeson knows that his Moriarty- like adversary is on the plane, probably sitting only a few feet from him. One of the pleasures of the film is the Cluedo-like game of trying to identify the villain. It could be anybody.

Some of the action scenes are very cleverly handled. There is a tremendous fight sequence in the tiny airplane bathroom, where space is so tight that it is barely possible to even throw a punch. The film-makers play up the claustrophobic settings as much as they do the time constraints.

"It doesn't make any sense," Neeson's character laments as he struggles forlornly to work out his adversary's motivation and behaviour. The remark could just as well apply to the plot, which becomes increasingly absurd the further the flight progresses.

Then again, there is no reason why suspense movies need to be logical or coherent. All they need is a bomb under the table (or in the overhead locker) and plenty of advanced warning that it is going to go off... unless Liam Neeson saves everyone first. Neeson's emergence so late in his career as one of contemporary cinema's most bankable tough guys may be surprising but he certainly can't be accused of skimping his action-man duties here.

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage


Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

    Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

    But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
    Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

    Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

    Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

    Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

    Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
    England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

    England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

    In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)