Warning: This review discusses the plot.
One of the worst things about 9/11, apart from the loss of life, destruction, economic damage, domestic overreaction, subsequent military overreach and the precipitation of a decline in the status of the United States as a world power, was the loss of the airborne thriller: terrorist fantasies that pitted everymen with combat training against characters from Tom Clancy novels. Passenger 57, Executive Decision, Turbulence – those were the days.
Well good news: Non-Stop signals the sub-genre’s full blooded return and better yet it acknowledges that matters have come full circle, it being a movie that not only name checks September 11th, as any terror in the skies flick now must if it’s to credibly stoke the audience’s latent fears, but sequelises it, placing history’s most notorious aviation crime at the centre of a revenge plot that, like 9/11 itself, doesn’t make any sense.
Still, who needs sense when you have the imposing bulk of Liam Neeson and a thriller neatly structured to deliver an incident of high tension every twenty minutes, these being the increments that the unseen hijacker uses to torment Neeson’s beleaguered air marshal as he threatens to kill passengers by stealth if his demands aren’t met.
Everything you could want of the scenario is delivered in Jaume Collet-Serra’s flick. There’s a who’s doing it (as opposed to a whodunit) that manages to stay one step ahead of the audience, plenty of suspects, palpable tension, a fight in a plane toilet and a ticking bomb. Digital cheats allow Serra to swoop through the aircraft and everyone on the passenger list with an equity card gets at least a line to register as a character we may care a little something about. In short, it may not be original, in the sense that Non-Stop’s story has been trumped by the likes of the aforementioned Executive Decision and, er, reality, but it grips and that, not plausibility, is all we ask of a thriller.
It’s fortunate that an above average potboiler need not keep its feet on the ground, especially when set in the air, because the film’s denouncement, in which the enemy is unmasked, declaring a post-911 disdain for US air security, is a little muddled. One wishes the writers had found an alternative motive for the crime, as the plot to frame Neeson conveniently ignores the culpability of the West’s intelligence agencies in preventing the atrocity, with the terrorists scapegoating the Department of Homeland Security (set up in response to the crime) and the aviation industry instead.
Indeed it seems a little mean spirited to blame airlines for failing to prevent something that had never happened before; almost as disingenuous as trying to show sky security is inadequate to deal with the ridiculously elaborate and atypical scenario they’ve created for the purposes of showing how inadequate sky security is. Still, now Neeson’s shown the world that said attack can be foiled, as least that’s one less terrorist grievance to worry about.