NONSTOP

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o, Scoot McNairy, Omar Metwally.

Nonstop is not the type of film you want to sit through if you’re planning on flying anywhere in the near future. But otherwise it is a slick, efficiently directed suspense thriller set on a trans-Atlantic flight. An aeroplane makes for a claustrophobic and unsettling setting for a thriller, and has been used before in films like Passenger 57, Red Eye, Flightplan, even the superbly titled Snakes On A Plane, and of course several films in the Airport series – but Nonstop makes makes of them look pretty anemic by comparison.

Despite having played the lean mean action hero in a couple of successful Taken films, in which he played the vengeful former CIA agent determine to protect his family no matter what it takes, Liam Neeson said that he didn’t want to play that kind of aging action hero role again. Yet here he is, strapping on his guns and his take no prisoners attitude again in this implausible but muscular thriller.

He plays Bill Marks, a former NYPD cop who now works as an air marshal, the law enforcement officers who, in this paranoid post 9/11 world, travel incognito on passenger planes and are prepared to step in to prevent any trouble. But Marks is a deeply flawed man. Following the death of his daughter from cancer, he is an emotionally broken man, divorced and an embittered alcoholic on the edge of a breakdown. He is unhappy with his latest assignment, a routine six hour nonstop flight from New York to London.

But not long after the plane takes off, he receives a message via the encrypted marshal’s network, threatening to kill one passenger every twenty minutes unless $150million is paid into a Caymans bank account. How can anyone expect to be able to kill someone on a plane in midflight and get away with it? That is the question Marks faces. But when the first body turns up, the situation changes. With the help of two stewardesses (played by Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, from 12 Years A Slave) Marks tries to identify the threat.

But the mastermind behind this elaborate scheme has set Marks up to be the fall guy. The bank account has been set up in his name. And the authorities on the ground are suspicious of his recent behaviour, and they order him to stand down. The captain of the plane (Linus Roache, from Law & Order, etc) takes his badge and gun. As time passes and another body turns up, Marks tries desperately to clear his name and identify the person behind the threat. And there is no shortage of suspects either, as the opening scenes quickly show us a number of clearly delineated characters as the passengers are boarding. There is Reilly (Corey Stoll, from tv series Law & Order: LA and House Of Cards, etc) the overly aggressive and sweaty former NYPD cop; an arrogant and impatient African American; the nerdy Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy); a Muslim (Omar Metwally) and Jen (Julianne Moore) the enigmatic woman in the seat next to Marks who injects herself into the investigation.

Nonstop is the first feature film script from John Richardson (a former editor who has worked on tv shows like Big Brother, etc) and television writer Christopher Roach. But rather than an action thriller like Taken on a plane, Nonstop is more of an old fashioned, sinuously plotted, suspenseful locked room mystery thriller, akin to Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, with lots of twists and unexpected surprises.

The film has been slickly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the young Spanish filmmaker who got his start in horror films like Orphan, etc, who makes the most of the race against the clock formula here. He uses some interesting visual flourishes especially when it comes to depicting the stream of text messages on screen. Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano uses the confined spaces of the aeroplane well, and he moves his camera up and down the aisles and into the crooks and nannies of the interior to create a genuinely unsettling atmosphere.

Collet-Serra previously directed Neeson in the psychological thriller Unknown, and the pair obviously have a great respect for their abilities and a good rapport. Neeson has a solid and commanding presence, and he even handles the physical stuff convincingly. It is comforting to have him in charge of a tense situation like this because we feel sure that, even despite his flaws, he will somehow save the day and find redemption. I really wanted Neeson to get on the plane’s PA system and utter that wonderful line: “I will find you. I will kill you!” That would have made the film for me!

The rest of the cast turn in efficient performances in some stereotyped roles. Julianne Moore acquits herself well in a role that seemed like it was going to be fairly passive and thankless.

For the most part this is a slick and effective thriller as Collet-Serra ramps up the tension and nails audiences to their seats, and keeps them guessing for the duration. The film’s 106 minutes fly by! However, the film is let down slightly by its slightly silly and cliched ending. I would love the Mythbusters team to roadtest the plan Marks has to protect the plane during the climax!

★★★☆

 

 

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