Jaume Collet-Serra’s new film Non-stop unfolds with the elegance and suspense of a classic Hitchcock film in our modern era. Through clever storytelling and progression of events, Non-stop takes us aboard an exciting ride and refreshingly puts our paranoia on edge to keep us guessing until the end.
We meet our unlucky hero at the bottom of a bottle and we know that his luck is only going to get worse. Through hazy filters and grainy lenses we meet our cast of supporting characters––the young girl flying alone for the first time, the quiet Muslim gentlemen who garners looks of suspicion, the nervous and smarmy creeper whose gaze lingers just too long and the arrogant, and a well-dressed young man who is just always in the way (yeah, that guy). We know that something will happen but we don’t know what, and already in true Hitchcockian fashion, we set about trying to decipher the mystery from the bundle of clues laid before us.
We soon learn that our unfortunate hero, Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), works as a Federal Air Marshal with a bit of a drinking problem. It’s hard to tell if the man hates life or only hates his job, but he seems miserable all around, and the trouble hasn’t even started yet. The trouble begins with a text message sent over the plane’s wifi network. A simple threat demands money, or else someone on the plane will be killed. We don’t know who sent the message or why. We don’t know if it’s serious or a bluff. As Bill searches the faces of the sleeping passengers, our colorful cast of characters has now become a police lineup of potential villains, and like Bill, we have no idea who we can trust. As the story progresses, the threats only escalate and Bill passes through a modified version of the various stages of death––anger, denial, bargaining, extreme paranoia, and acceptance.
The action of the film is a series of cat and mouse games as Bill tries to uncover the source of the threat. But he is not alone in his suspicion and we also begin to wonder who we can trust––is Bill a paranoid drunk or is he dutiful officer of the law? Is he helping or hurting his cause while it’s obvious that he is hurting himself? The craftiness of the film becomes evident in the perception that Bill generates––we want to believe he’s the hero, and yet his actions are questionable. He does things for which the explanation may not hold up under investigation. Fueled by a sense of duty, he becomes a man willing to do everything in his power to take control, with blatant disregard for how others see him. He’s a man on a mission and completely unstoppable.
The threatening text messages suggest dangerous men at work, and yet Bill becomes the most dangerous threat of all, committing actions that remind most of us uncomfortably of 9/11, and the media makes no secret of this. When the true motivation behind the threats is uncovered, the revelation is frustrating and even repulsive, and yet still causes us to curiously think about the dichotomy between hero and terrorist. The film’s final moments begin to deflate as the climactic bubble of the whodunnit pops, but Collet-Serra finishes strong with a reasonable resolution. Not for the faint of heart (or of flying), Non-stop delivers on an intriguing premise that draws upon the claustrophobic tension of being trapped 35,000 feet in the air with a killer, and makes for an exciting, albeit exhausting, ride.