Non-Stop – Puzzle Doctor At The Movies

Non-Stop or “Liam On A Plane”. Liam Neeson is Bill Marks, an Air Marshall on a non-stop (hey, that’s the title!) flight across the Atlantic. After a brief hint at the fact that Marks has some personal issues (who’d have guessed it!), he receives a text on his secure pager. Basically if 150 million dollars isn’t wired to a bank account in twenty minutes, then someone on the plane will die. And then the twenty minute countdown will start again… and again…

Non StopWhy this film? Well, it’s directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the director behind Neeson in Unknown, a film that I enjoyed a lot – not sure why I didn’t post a review, but it’s a clever puzzle, so I’ll take a pass at it again in the future – and I’d heard a couple of mutterings somewhere that this was a “proper” mystery, albeit with over 200 suspects, so I’d thought I’d give it a go. Strap yourself in…

First off, I know the motive is controversial but I’m not going to discuss that here, as it will spoil too much of the film. I can see where people who it upset are coming from though. Putting that to one side though…

It’s quite an impressive thriller, really. It’s never going to win an Oscar, and some of the cast aren’t exactly stretching their acting capabilities, but there isn’t a duff performance here. Apart from Neeson, there’s Julianne Moore as the passenger who insists on sitting next to him and lots of people who you’ll vaguely recognise from TV or as Batman’s dad. The dialogue’s a bit rubbish in places, but this isn’t Shakespeare, so we’ll let it go.

What works best is the tone of the film, more like a stalky horror film at times. The director wisely avoids turning it into an action film, at least for 95% of the run time, as, let’s face it, we’re on a plane. As events start to conspire against Marks – the villain starts making it personal, and, as you might suspect, the passengers start becoming unsure about this somewhat unbalanced Air Marshall – there’s a growing sense of isolation for our hero, despite being on a crowded plane. The tension is cranked up as it seems that the killer can target anyone, including one apparently impossible crime.

Mystery-wise? Well, it sort of works. You actually see the villain killing one of the passengers but as the weapon is slow acting poison, you don’t realise what’s happened. So if you know who’s going to die, you can spot the killer… but you don’t, so you won’t.

The next bit is purely speculation, but I think part of the solution was changed reasonably late on, as at least one part of the first proper murder (not going to explain what I mean by that as it would be a spoiler) would have been impossible unless my theory is correct, and there are a couple of scenes towards the end – one in particular – that seemed clumsily tacked on. There seemed to be an alteration in the targeting of Marks as the film went on, which could sort of be explained with the ending given, but works better with the ending in my head. The change makes the ending a bit more action-oriented so I’m guessing that’s what happened. I could be wrong though…

Anyway, a decent action film although be prepared to be offended by the motive. Recommended – and don’t forget the popcorn.

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11 comments

  1. I saw this in Bangkok recently and had a blast! Part of that is that I always enjoy going to the cinema in a foreign country, but I thought it was just a really fun film. I think the critics were a bit harsh on it.

    Yes, it’s pretty dumb, and relies on a huge number of coincidences, but until the ill-conceived motive is revealed it feels like the director and cast are all in on the joke, just playing it dead-pan. The direction is pretty slick, with lots of clever shots to take advantage of the unusual space that wouldn’t have made it in if it was just a by-the-numbers project (like that cramped early fight scene, or a shot later on that pulls out of a first class window, pans the length of the plane and zooms in again on economy – you could just cut straight to the next scene.)

    The who-dunnit aspect, while not particularly tightly conceived, is certainly tense and intriguing. I solved it about halfway through, but before then I’d suspected literally everyone. And there are some pretty clever mechanical ideas as well (I thought the hiding place for *SPOILER* was ingenious).

    As a developmental editor, I’d be interested to hear what you thought the major change was. Making large scale changes late in a project is always delicate. I think you might be right: parts of the end didn’t really seem to fit with the tone and style of what came before. Perhaps you could send me an email to avoid spoiling anyone else?

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  2. We will be watching this sometime soon, so I am glad you found it to be a decent movie. I don’t really like movies on planes, but am making an exception for this one. I liked Unknown also.

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    • Unknown is clever, isn’t it? A ridiculous premise that generates a reasonable conclusion. The closest to a cinematic impossible mystery that I’ve seen in a good while… although there’s one in this film as well.

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  3. I have seen the film. Not in English, but in dubbed Hindi, readily available here.
    It is an enjoyable film worth watching, though not outstanding. The suspense is maintained throughout. Plenty of twists and suspicious characters keep one guessing. However, at times, it is quite ludicrous.
    I agree with richmcd that the hiding place for Spoiler is ingenious.
    There is an intriguing whodunit element. The first proper murder may be regarded as a locked room crime.
    I was not able to understand one thing. How was the culprit sure that the altercation would lead to the first death and that too at the exact 20 minutes mark?
    I did not find anything controversial or offensive regarding the motive though it may be far-fetched.

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    • I think if you’re an inhabitant of a certain country and remember the original event, then there’s a certain tastelessness about the motive.

      And as for the first death? It’s a film – we just have to not think too hard about it. Ask yourself too how the mechanism for the locked room was created during the flight…

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      • Well, in my opinion, the inhabitants of that country need not be that sensitive. Just because some members of a profession are shown as losing mental balance and committing evil, it is not a reflection on the entire profession. Similarly, just because a family member of a victim in that event is shown as losing mental balance and committing evil, it is not a reflection on the entire group of family members of victims.
        A logical explanation is possible regarding the mechanism of the locked room murder (it is difficult to elaborate this without you saying, “Spoiler !”). However, there is no logical explanation for the culprit’s foresight regarding the first death.

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      • I agree with you regarding the motivation to an extent IF this wasn’t a popcorn thriller movie. If it had been a serious drama addressing issues that shook a country to its core in a way that I can’t ever fully appreciate, then fair enough. But I can see how people could see this as trivialising what was for some a national trauma.

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