Non-Stop’s hero loves his family and hates airports. We know this in less than a minute. Here, the typecast, but always inspiring, Liam Neeson plays federal marshal Bill Marks, a less-confident version of the hero we’ve seen from him before. Marks is lonely, his eyes lingering on couples. He seems agitated and skittish, acutely aware of a Middle Eastern man. He later stares down a black businessman. Is he racist? Is he profiling? Is he simply noticing details?
Bill helps a little girl who is afraid of getting on the plane, which lets us know early on he has a heart of gold. But the act has an audience, winning over a stewardess. Coincidence, or is it calculated? The flight soon is underway, and feels mundane and familiar in the way only flights can. A woman is picky about her seat. The black businessman from earlier blocks the aisle for too long. The stewardess brings drinks.
Soon he receives a mysterious text on his secure channel. Someone is watching. Someone knows who he is. Someone is going to kill another passenger every 20 minutes if they don’t get $150 million wired to an account that happens to have Bill’s name on it.
By now we’re in the thick of it. Suspicion and accusation abound. Corey Stoll, who we know as House of Cards’ Congressman Peter Russo, looks particularly guilty. The stewardess is trembling conspicuously.
You understand the rules of movies like this, so I’ll stop telling you the plot. Obviously, accusations fly. Trust is gained and lost as character histories are revealed. Rebellion begins in the ranks. TSA and the outside world press in as Bill implicates himself. We desperately want to believe that this man is a hero who can save us, but our confidence begins to wane as the stakes grow higher and higher. Social media plays a key role. 9/11 plays a bigger one. The passengers’ fear is palpable.
The film takes into account the deep scar left on the United States by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. It understands that plane hijackings still are a raw nerve — though it is not above poking at this nerve for dramatic effect. It looks at each character with suspicion, making us both doubt and believe each of them, and leaves us at the end with the idea that vulnerability and security might not be opposites after all. Perhaps true vulnerability lies with blind faith in our systems of security. Perhaps true security lies with vulnerability and connection to the people around us. Perhaps we should all prefer the window seat, so that if we die, it will happen as we see more of the world.
The action sequences in the film are satisfying and harrowing, and the building suspense becomes appropriately claustrophobic. I’ll also say that I jumped quite a bit at one moment in particular, so if you’re in it for the suspense, you won’t go wrong here.
In terms of plot, Neeson plays a cookie-cutter character, and everything else is out of control and unbelievable, but it’s all done in ways we understand and are willing to accept. It’s okay for the villain to be practically omniscient here. It makes things more interesting.
Only a few moments of trust or betrayal feel unearned, happening just because the movie needs them to. And maybe they’re part of the statement the film is making about vulnerability and trust and it all works out. I’d need to see it again to be sure.
Regardless, the film is a fun ride. While waiting for it to start, I realized I was seeing a much more varied demographic than I usually do in Kirksville. It’s because movies like this can connect with everyone. We all hope Bill Marks really can exist. We all would like to think we might become him when the situation demands it. And we all kind of want the window seat.