Saw the mystery-thriller film Non-Stop starring Liam Neeson on Sunday. The film actually had a pretty good premise; someone is threatening to kill passengers every 20 minutes unless he gets his goal of having $150 million transferred to a bank account fulfilled. What makes it a good thriller is that this person is likely among the 150 passengers on board and that besides knowing this guy is sending threats through his cellphone, there’s no way else to tell which person is more suspicious than another. Every person on the plane could be the blackmailer, including the co-pilot and the air stewardesses and this basically means there’s no character we can totally trust to be clear of suspicion, not even the main character himself whose own history is not immediately revealed to us. The film does a good job in keeping us on the edge of our seats by having us constantly wondering who the real blackmailer is and how they are able to carry out the killings without exposing themselves openly. It also does well by playing on stereotypes and perspectives, like having others be suspicious of the Muslim guy by virtue of his race but who turns out to be a helpful doctor.
Of course, the film can’t work without some source of positive goodness to lead us on, otherwise it will just become a dark and broody film focusing on Liam Neeson. This source of positive vibe came in the form of Julianne Moore’s character. I must say I always have a good impression of Julianne Moore ever since seeing her in Boogie Nights. She had brilliant oscar-worthy scenes in that movie that showed her vulnerability and gave her character real depth as supposed to a thinly sketched porn actress that her character might have become in the hands of a lesser accomplished actress. Though she was indeed nominated for an oscar for Boogie Nights, I really cannot understand how she did not eventually win the award. Since then, she has been nominated a further three times in the Academy Awards, even twice in the same year – a feat only accomplished by a few other brilliant actresses such as Cate Blanchett in 2007, but similiar to Cate, she did not win either awards she was nomimated for in 2002. She gave convincing turns in this movie as well. When she says she has a heart problem and can die any time, who can really doubt her words?
Back to Liam Neeson, his character was made to be that of an anti-hero. He doesn’t exactly have a perfect history – he’s an alcholic and had bad records in the line of duty – but who else can we trust besides this US federal air marshal to find the real culprit behind the killings? Rounding up the great cast (at least that’s what it seems on paper but whether it works, we’ll come to that later) is the recent oscar best supporting actress winner, Lupita Nyong’o.
The film had a good start, setting the stage for a good old locked room mystery since the suspect is one of the people on the plane and there is no way to escape. However, I do think that the film wasted its good premise and solid cast. Although the buildup was good, the film really went into auto-pilot mode in the film’s final act. There was so much ridiculous and unbelievable stuff going on. Liam Neeson’s character tried to minimise the bomb explosion by stacking it behind all the luggage at the back of the plane, a plan he called ‘for minimal damage’. This was a plan that even he himself acknowledged no plane has carried out successfully in reality. And yet, at the end of the film, the plane managed to land safely with no one else dying. And by the end, when everything was revealed including the real blackmailer(s), there were still many glaring plot holes that were unresolved and not addressed. Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o were all nominated for the Academy Awards before but their talents were pretty much wasted here, especially Lupita Nyong’o who recently beat Jennifer Lawrence to clinch the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress in her debut film, 12 years a slave. Here, she seemed to have disappeared into the background and almost unnoticeable. Her role in the film was so insignificant that it would not have made much difference if they had actually given her part to an unknown.
All in all, this would be a good film if you can simply go along with the ride and not over-think it too much.