A surprisingly tense thriller, Non-Stop is entertaining.
Largely thanks to its cast. Liam Neeson is fantastic as Marshal Bill Marks, layering a stock character with intimate performance. Julianne Moore shines as Jen Summers, and so do Corey Stull (Austin Reilly) and Michelle Dockery (Nancy).
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes several compelling choices, including the way he shoots some of Marks’ point of view shots. The director blurs the borders of the frame, leaving us to wonder: is the Marshal focusing, observing his surroundings, taking note of passengers? Or is he zoning out, so stricken with grief and anxiety that he cannot adequately do his job?
In several of these moments, Collet-Serra’s audio design is just as effective. He distorts the sound, making it distant, removed, almost as if Marks is under water, a decision that amplifies our uncertainty concerning Marks’ focus.
Just as admirable: the director’s ability to heighten tension, mostly by slowing down proceedings, letting Neeson show Bill’s grief and concern, and also giving the audience time to process new developments.
In many ways, then, Non-Stop induces our anxiety.
Just as it, for the first two acts anyway, sets up a compelling mystery. Who is committing these crimes? How are they avoiding detection? And why are they doing it? The pay-off promises to be rewarding, not least because Collet-Sera and the picture’s three credited writers keep us guessing. Whenever we think they’re revealing the criminal, they add unexpected and sensible twists that further increase our uncertainty.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers fumble Non-Stop’s final act. Their reveal is unsatisfying, because the villain’s motivations are underexplained and questionable. As is Marks’ failure to pursue some obvious investigative paths.
A trite, emotionally-manipulative ploy involving Becca (Quinn McColgan) doesn’t help either.
Ditto that for Non-Stop’s limited thematic application to viewers’ lives. It attempts to be a statement on national security, but falls short.
Still, Collet-Serra and his writers develop their characters just well-enough to make us care about them.
And they create a tense atmosphere that sparks our interest.
Facts that are enough to make Non-Stop worth viewing.