“Non-Stop” – a tasty home-made stew spiced with adrenaline

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I don’t believe I have had this much fun watching a pure action genre film since… I don’t know… …“Taken”, which conveniently enough also starred Liam Neeson in his full-blown bad-assery.  Bad-assdom? …Whatever… The point is that “Non-Stop” is a fun-to-watch well-paced thriller that will teleport you back to the late 80’s, or early 90’s when instead of superheroes, real men (very macho men at that) with guns were more than enough to save the world.  It is by no means a perfect film, but through solid craftsmanship and a suspenseful story-telling, it provides enough entertainment to keep your disbelief firmly suspended.

“Non-Stop” is the second collaboration between Liam Neeson and the director Jaume Collet-Serra, as they had previously done “Unknown” together. Undoubtedly, there is a certain degree of similarity between the two films in that they both are decent (or serviceable, but I really don’t like this word… It sounds really dirty to me for some reason) action thrillers that dabble in related genre tropes. But between those two films, I found “Non-Stop” much more enjoyable to watch.

“Non-Stop” plays things really straight: a brooding, troubled air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) during a routine transatlantic flight receives a string of text messages from somebody on board the plane, who threatens to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless Nate-Parker-and-Juilanne-Moore-in-Non-Stop-2014the airline pays him 150 million dollars. Marks quickly steps into action hoping to diffuse the threat before anybody gets hurt, but he quickly realises he is fighting not only the mysterious terrorist, but also the authorities; he doesn’t know that the account, to which the hijacker wants the funds to be transferred, has his name written on it…

In the interest of clarity, it has to be said that “Non-Stop” doesn’t break any new ground in terms of its story-telling, acting performances, the action, or technical artistry. But is it needed for a film to be interesting and entertaining? Of course not… “Non-Stop” is a very meat-and-potatoes thriller, which knows its place within the genre. Moreover, I think the film-makers were perfectly aware of the circumstances, under which their work would be released. You see, nowadays most (if not all) pure mainstream action genre has been replaced by comic book adaptations, action sci-fi, and various remakes and reboots. Even within the genre itself, the straight-up serious approach is somewhat frowned upon; the action film needs to be tongue-in-cheek, self-aware, or downright satirical in order to make it through to the wide cinematic release. And I don’t mind that, I actually enjoy it, but I can’t help but realize I miss those days when those films would take themselves seriously.

It seems to me that the people behind “Non-Stop” knew exactly what they were doing, because a film like that, even with all its shortcomings, feels like a breath of fresh air. I find Non-Stop-Liam-Neesonit even more interesting, because there is nothing about this film that feels new in any way. Instead, “Non-Stop” blatantly and shamelessly lifts visuals, character tropes, twists, and the approach to action from other sources and re-appropriates them to fit the story at hand… And it works for me perfectly…

“Non-Stop” simply takes a stencil of an action hijacking/mystery/who-done-it movie and ticks all the necessary boxes. The main character is appropriately shaped by his past emotional traumas, alcoholism, fear of flying, and the sense of duty. Neeson has the agility and demeanor of Steven Seagal from “Under Siege” and a grasp of the situation directly lifted from “Taken”. The film makes a good use of Sherlock-esque (or House-of-cards-esque, if you prefer) visual style of presenting the text messaging process without resorting to showing the phone screen every other second. The action is fast-cut, appropriately shaky and frenetic, as if directly inspired by Paul Greengrass’ “Bourne” style. However, note here I don’t really think you’d have much wiggle room with the narrow and cramped spaces on the plane. There’s a bunch of red herrings, a murder-on-the-orient-express-like confined space detective arc and – of course – a ticking clock. Everything is sprinkled with solid acting performances (Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Corey Stoll, and Michelle Dockery among others), which creates a hearty comfort food action film of the B-variety – just like your mom used to make it…

There is nothing wrong with borrowing and copy-pasting, as long as the end product makes sense and does the job. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to provide entertainment. What you need is understanding and respect toward the genre you’re exploring. There is no need to push the envelope – it’s fine as it is. Moreover, these days a simple return to the good old-fashioned genre traits might be seen as refreshing and exploratory. Maybe a film like “Non-Stop” will not appeal to the younger generations, which are more used to the caped crusaders and dense CG-ridden action of epic proportions… But for an old fart like yours truly, it’s a nostalgia trip to the days of my youth.

I don’t know, but I like it when films like that would take themselves seriously. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the self-aware mockery that this genre has become. Maybe I’d like to see a renaissance of the pure action hero. And maybe even Liam Neeson could become one, since he is clearly on a roll, “Taken 2” notwithstanding. I’d like to see more films like “Non-Stop” hit the theatres and at least provide a formidable alternative to the sexless trend the Non-Stopbig blockbusters seem to be grappling onto.

All in all, “Non-Stop” was a session of pure enjoyment. I got a lot of fun watching it and I can only recommend it. The film knows what it is, knows the genre and swims comfortably within it. Sure, maybe the final reveal is a bit underwhelming, or even eye-rolling, but I don’t care. In fact, dismissing a perfectly serviceable (I did it again…) movie based on its last 5 minutes is – let’s face it – a bit moronic. If anything, I might move the broccoli to the side of my plate and enjoy the rest of the meal, if you know what I mean.

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