If someone had told us 20 years ago that one day the same Liam Neeson from Schindler’s List would be one of the biggest action stars in the world, just as he entered his sixties, we would have laughed them off and said they were insane. How could this serious thespian, who was putting so much effort into creating subtle portrayals of despair and honor in films like Michael Collins and Rob Roy, disregard his craft to star in low budget, B-movies in which he had to romance younger blondes and rescue cars, trains and/or planes? Yet at some point in the late aughts, there we were, living in a world where Neeson was the star of sleeper hit Taken, which was followed by a sequel and countless imitations in which we’ve seen ‘90s actors, trying to get their groove back on.
While films like 3 Days to Kill, starring Kevin Costner, fall flat, movies like Unknown, in which Neeson broods, growls and saves the day, remain endlessly compelling to watch. Not only has the actor had one of the most fascinating resurgences in modern movie history, but he also has helped refresh a genre that once was thought of as the place where one went to die. The reason why these movies work is because of Neeson; he has redefined the star vehicle for an older movie star, by reminding us that star quality lasts forever. Sadly this renaissance came at a time during which the actor’s personal life, seemed to aid in the creation of this modern myth; as Neeson lost his wife in a tragic accident, his characters automatically took on a melancholy tone.
In these movies, Neeson seems to always be looking for something, or for someone who is always out of his reach. Regardless of the plot, and whether his character is romantically involved or not, there always seems to be longing in his eyes, which makes him both an effectively mysterious hero and, ironically, a seductive sex symbol, desirable because he’s unattainable.
Take his work in Non-Stop for example, where he plays an alcoholic air marshal called Bill Marks. He boards the plane from New York to London, expecting things to go on as usual, but lucky him, he receives a text message from an unidentified party who informs him that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless they transfer $150 million into a bank account.
At first the marshal ignores him—after all, passengers undergo rigorous security checks before boarding any plane—but then, as promised, the first corpse turns up, followed by another one twenty minutes later. This leads Marks into a frenetic investigation heightened by the fact that he becomes the main suspect. What Neeson does in Non-Stop is the kind of thing Cary Grant did in Alfred Hitchcock movies.
These performances about ordinary men caught in extraordinary situations only work well when the actor involved both takes the situations seriously and doesn’t at the same time. Meaning that, for example, Neeson makes us believe his character is truly a wronged hero, only because he is an actor who respects the genre. Neeson never gives a false step and never seems self-conscious. He seems almost exhilarated by both the silliness of the plot and the opportunity he has to be completely over the top onscreen.
He’s also a generous actor who allows his supporting cast to shine—and what a cast, too. It seems that as if continuing with the hyper-genre-ness of the film, director Jaume Collet-Serra figured out it would be a good idea to assemble a cast consisting of everyone who plays villains in movies—and yes, the villain is probably the one person you’re thinking about, but no, it doesn’t matter. The film’s pace is so tight and controlled, that we often feel complicit with the editor, as if he’s making the cuts following our heartbeats. There is such a sense of delicious dread in the film, that you can’t help but want it to last forever, because it is so damn entertaining.
Of course, Collet-Serra is smart when it comes to wrapping things up, and the film never overstays its welcome, perhaps because the screenwriters ran out of insane ideas to put this plane through—or, perhaps, because this is a B-movie and all, Non-Stop never actually meant to be great, as opposed to just efficient. By no means will this film be mentioned in best-of-the-year lists, and it most definitely will not be given any awards. However, it’s one of those movies that we know we will find ourselves glued to, if we run into it while flipping channels. Perhaps that’s Non-Stop‘s best reward.
Non-Stop is presented in a superb HD transfer (the set includes a Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet copy). Included alongside the main attraction are two short featurettes, one about the making of the action sequences and the other about the “suspense effect”. They’re average, but they are but a side attraction to the main event.