Maybe this is just a combination of nostalgia and confirmation bias talking,but I could have sworn that back in the misty past, Liam Neeson didn’t spend most of his time on screen killing people. I feel like one day, he gained just a couple more gray hairs and little crows feet and that set off some computer in a secret bunker whose only job is to compute cragginess algorithms, indicating the moment when an actor becomes perfect for Male Baby Boomer Action Hero Wish Fulfillment.
I was only thinking about this because Liam Neeson’s looking particularly craggy and done with everything for Non-Stop. Which I’ll admit, Mike and I saw this weekend because there was literally nothing else both of us were interested in seeing at the theater. I like a good popcorn action with a bit of suspense flick as much as the next guy, when the next guy is Mike.
I actually liked Non-Stop a lot more than I thought I would. I came in just not taking any of it at all seriously–come on, Liam Neeson shoots people on an airplane, how fucking serious can this be?–and actually got very drawn in at the beginning. The film feels very gritty and claustrophobic thanks to the camera work, which I think helps it feel more serious than it has any right to be. I mean come on, the basic concept is that Bill (Liam Neeson) is on a flight where a mysterious person threatens to kill a passenger every twenty minutes if he or she isn’t given a bunch of money. And the hell of it is, it actually kind of works in the sense of convincing you to just give it a whirl and suspend your disbelief…until the last thirty minutes crosses the line of Too Damn Silly.
Eh, and I’m going to just hit some spoilers now, so consider yourself warned.
I think part of why I was inclined to actually like this movie, silly concept or no, is because for a goodly portion there was some definite flirting with an unreliable narrator plot, and I’m a total sucker for that. To be honest, I would have liked the movie a heck of a lot more, if at the end, we find out that Bill actually is behind everything and is just on the worst bender of his life.
But that was not to be, though Liam Neeson could have sold me on it; he’s a good enough actor and he certainly played Bill as barely hanging on by a mental thread. I was with him the whole way. But instead, the villain is set up as being (of course) incredibly manipulative and one step ahead of the air marshall the whole time. The first passenger that dies actually is killed by Bill, which originally made me almost laugh a little, then I wasn’t sure if it would be ridiculous or awesome if all the other people who got killed would also get murdered by Bill. That might have been kind of cool, in retrospect. But that’s not what happened.
I think maybe the cleverness of the villain is what killed the movie, ultimately. With a setup that good and that much tension, maybe trying to get a satisfying resolution wasn’t going to happen. But part of the issue is that it gets implied heavily that the villain isn’t just in it for money. He wants something else. That could be interesting, right? Well, maybe. At least it didn’t end up being something as done and done again as revenge (when you were a cop you killed my mom/let my dad die so I came up with this baroque plot to get back at you and get rich as well!) but instead it ended up being…huh.
One of the villains (it’s a team) is in it for money. The other is in it because… reasons. Which basically amounted to “9/11/Iraq War/Airport security theater/if I blow up another plane it’ll show everything is bullshit and stuff!” Now, arguably maybe it was playing on the idea of the guy just being a completely unhinged vet, but it honestly didn’t work out very well.
And that was when the wheels came completely off the bus.
Suddenly the movie went from feeling claustrophobic and actually pretty realistic (despite the unreality of the situation, the action felt very real) to nearly cartoonish. Low points include the plane getting thrown into a steep dive so Bill’s gun floats up from the floor so he can dramatically grab it and shoot one of the bad guys, and a plane crash where he manages to snatch his daughter-analog from the jaws of certain death. Apparently, along with his concealed weapon, Bill was issued a complete immunity to the laws of physics when he stepped onto the plane.
I think the thing I find most disappointing about the relentless silliness of the ending is that the one villain does make some half-assed points about the stupidity of the security theater we have at the airport, and the fact that it basically is useless. Even with the ridiculousness of the last half an hour of action, if the movie had gotten its shit back together and regained its vaguely disquieting, uncertain feel, maybe it could have been salvaged. Leave us with some questions about how safe anyone really is, what security actually does, things like that.
But in the ending scene, Bill basically gets told he’s awesome by everyone who initially thought he was a terrorist and tried to beat him down, gets hugged by his daughter-analog, and sure looks like he’s going to get laid, too. All it was really missing a guitar riff and AMERICA FUCK YEAH. The sad thing is, I would have liked that so much better if all that feeble wish fulfillment was actually his last hallucination as he lay dying in the wreckage of the plane he’d just blown up. It would have been more interesting.