Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Non-Stop

by Adam Riske
If you would have told me that after watching Non-Stop I would retreat into a deep reflection on sensitivity in movies, I would have thought you were crazy. But here we are.

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.
Let’s talk about insensitivity. I personally think using the events and traumas of 9/11 victims, survivors and their families for a popcorn thriller is in extremely poor taste. The most frustrating aspect of this is a talented director, Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan – two movies I enjoy) and writers John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle did not need to go there. It’s not integral to the plot; the motivation could have been any number of alternatives. This made me start to think about when movies evoke real-life tragedies.

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?
Going back to Non-Stop, this is not the first time I have felt this way about a movie using 9/11 as part of its subject matter. I hated United 93. I think it’s a movie that should never have been made. Director Paul Greengrass would have you believe the movie was made under the pretense of honoring the passengers of that doomed flight, but it provides no catharsis to its victims or its families. All that movie does, in my opinion, is put you in the shoes of those poor souls as a ghoulish exercise. Then again, a movie I believe to be great called The Sacrament (directed by Ti West and due out later this year) does something similar with the Jonestown mass suicide. The Sacrament is a terrifying movie that I highly respect from a filmmaking standpoint and somehow didn’t leave me angry for using a real life tragedy as its inspiration. So, why is one OK and not the other? Is it because I was alive at the time of 9/11 and was not around when Jonestown happened?

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. 
But I digress. Should you see Non-Stop? I wouldn’t if I were you. You might enjoy it, but many of you won’t and it’s not good enough to be worth rolling the dice. It’s the worst kind of movie because it’s one that feels like a betrayal. As Patrick mentioned on the 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.


  1. Adam - I haven't seen Non-Stop, but I think I know how you feel. I have the same reaction to movies that involve child sexual abuse. This might seem obvious, but sexual abuse is a damn serious issue, and I think if a movie is going to include it, the film should show it deserves to. You've probably heard of a supremely crappy movie called The Ward, by the once-great John Carpenter. Sexual abuse lies at the heart of that movie, and I cannot tell you how pissed off I was that such a serious issue was used as grist for a cheap-ass horror flick.

    1. Sorry - I realized I wanted to add something else. Boogie Nights also has a sequence that deals explicitly with child exploitation (resulting in The Colonel's ultimate fate), but P.T. Anderson handles the scene in jail between Horner and The Colonel with great seriousness and sensitivity.

    2. There was a conversation on a recent Killer POV that pointed out how Freddy Krueger was originally a child-murdering pedophile, but by Part 3 had become the wisecracking hero of the series with his own line of toys being marketed to kids. That's a tough one to take.