Feb 26 2014, 1:40pm CST | by Forbes
It is somewhat a cliché to invoke Alfred Hitchcock whenever any filmmaker crafts a remotely efficient thriller. Yet Jaume Collet-Serra has built a growing body of mainstream work that would genuinely qualify as “Hitchcock-ian”. In the sense that not every Hitchcock thriller was as scary as Psycho or as psychologically probing as Vertigo, Collet-Serras’s genre entries (House of Wax, Orphan, Unknown) have a kind of playful absurdity and occasionally ghoulish violence that brings to mind what one might consider B-grade Hitchcock. Non-Stop is the kind of film that Hitchcock might have made in his heyday, or at least one he would have enjoyed.
The primary selling point from a box office point-of-view is of course Liam Neeson in another action-hero role. To the extent that the film will or won’t be a box office success will be due to audiences showing up to watch Neeson bark at people and occasionally beat them up and/or shoot at them. The Universal (a division of Comcast) release cost $50 million to produce, so its projected over/under $25 million debut will count as a win. As I wrote yesterday, Neeson is really one of the last A-level action stars, so a strong performance for this picture would go a long way both to preserving his action stardom and in convincing studios not to entirely give up on the non-fantasy action genre.
For the record, the film has as much in common with Taken as First Blood has in common with Cliffhanger, so those who would merely score points by calling it Taken 3 or “Taken In An Airplane“ are doing all parties a disservice. It is an old-school thriller as opposed to a relentless action movie, an effective and almost-plausible genre entry that has little in mind other than to play the audience like a piano. The story involves Neeson’s over-the-hill Federal Air Marshal who stars getting threatening text messages from a passenger on his flight, eventually threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes into $150 million is transferred into an account.
The catch (revealed early on) is that the account is registered in his name, and the film gets surprising mileage with the notion that Neeson’s Bill Marks may somehow be responsible for the events. It’s a classic mix of paranoia and “wrong man” trappings, and the film plausibly builds toward both scenarios (Bill Marks is the hero or Bill Marks is the villain) for as long as it can. And to its credit, the film acknowledges and empathizes with the passengers who merely see the guy as an angry and bullying loudmouth with a gun who may or may not be trying to hijack the plane. Adding to the mystery is the solid bench of character actors.
The likes of Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll among others play passengers while Linus Roache, Michelle Dockery, and Lupita Nyong’o among others make up the core crew. Some of them get more to do than others (Nyong’o is somewhat wasted), but it’s nice to have what amounts to a mystery film when there are several would-be suspects to choose from. The picture crafts real tension out of the plausible idea that the would-be hero is in fact the evildoer, and it’s one of several recent films (Flight Plan, Salt, Knight & Day, etc.) that play upon the notion that the face-on-the-poster movie star is crazy or a villain.
Other than that, there isn’t much to say without divulging how everything wraps up. Yes there are action scenes when required, and a first act beat down in an airplane bathroom is arguably the highlight. And yes the film comes to a somewhat fantastical conclusion, even as the film goes out of its way to explain itself both in terms of physics and character motivation. The story makes a shocking amount of sense in that you won’t question the little details until it’s long over. It’s a perfectly satisfying ride, one that uses most of its actors and its specific location (a crowded passenger plane) to its advantage in terms of crafting tension and suspense.
Non-Stop is a perfectly solid thriller, the kind of big screen release that may have been an A-level studio programmer ten years ago but now almost qualifies as a B-movie. It offers another compelling Neeson starring turn, one that plays more on his skills as an actor than his reputation as a butt-kicker. Its screenplay by John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, and Ryan Engle is an intelligent as it needs to be without twisting itself in knots attempting to be overly clever. It delivers exactly what its marketing promises and does so without straining your patience or insulting your intelligence.
While Neeson’s Taken series has become his most iconic franchise, I’m actually more interested in his quirkier and more offbeat thrillers with Jaume Collet-Serra. With Non-Stop, Unknown, and the upcoming Run All Night for Warner Bros. (a division of Time Warner), this would-be Hitchcock may have found his Jimmy Stewart. Collet-Serra may not ever reach the heights of the “Master of Suspense”, but for the sake of the industry that needs more big-scale movies like this, I certainly hope he keeps trying for the immediate future.
Source: Forbes Business
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