by Adam Riske
Non-Stop elicited giddiness, disgust and then confusion from me as a viewer. I was actually enjoying the first 80 minutes or so of the movie. It was better than I expected it to be. The movie was entertaining, suspenseful and on the right side of goofy. It felt comparable to a throwback of those well-made, exciting '90s hijacking action movies like Executive Decision and Passenger 57. And then it makes a decision for a character’s motivation that is so insensitive and unnecessary that it took me out of the movie completely and made me angry. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at this: Non-Stop exploits the tragedy of 9/11 and the chain of events instigated by that horrible day.
Non-Stop starts out interestingly enough. The Neeson character is introduced as an alcoholic and while this is a sort of trite characterization, it did make me think that we were going into The Grey territory – i.e. the movie might supersede its goofy premise to become something a little substantial. That goes by the wayside pretty quickly, but the movie moves fast and feels similar to Source Code in that we follow a confused hero as he’s trying to solve a mystery aboard a crowded passenger vehicle. Non-Stop is not much of a performance movie, but Neeson is in his element and Julianne Moore gives some quirk to a pretty stock character as the ordinary woman caught in the middle of a perilous situation. Up to this point, I was truly excited to review the movie because it’s one of those examples where I can tell you all about this mocked movie (the trailer is cringe-worthy) actually being pretty fun and worth seeing. And then we run into some trouble.
But first a quick tangent: I saw Non-Stop immediately after watching the new Hayao Miyazaki feature The Wind Rises, which was another fairly decent movie that bothered me at times due to its questionable moral choices. In that movie, the protagonist is an airplane designer who was integral into the creation of Japanese war planes that factored into the deaths of thousands of soldiers on both sides during World War II. The movie mostly skirts around this issue (it addresses it in about two lines of dialogue) and asks for you to sympathize with this character. That’s truly tough to do and makes the whole movie seem irresponsible in a way. The lead character is a war profiteer who recognizes the errors of his ways and still chooses to turn a blind eye. And yet I loved The Wolf of Wall Street, for example, about characters that are heinous, recognize what they’re doing and keep doing it. What’s up with that?
The honest answer is that I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just a hypocrite. Or maybe it’s too difficult to make blanket moral stances when it comes to watching and interpreting art. Maybe it’s because I trust Martin Scorsese and Ti West based on previous work and don’t share the same sentiment with Paul Greengrass or Jaume Collet-Serra. As far as Miyazaki goes, The Wind Rises seems to be a questionable misstep of a typically charming director based on what he’s called “very complex feelings” about the war.
Se7en podcast last week, there’s an unspoken contract between an audience and filmmakers (regarding what audiences can expect in a particular type of movie) and an audience can react poorly when that contract is broken. In the case of Se7en, the turn of events is in the DNA of that movie. In Non-Stop, it’s ugliness without purpose. If you’re looking for a good action movie in theaters, see 3 Days to Kill instead. It’s ridiculous but entertaining and won’t make you feel gross afterwards.