It would seem that within the last half-decade or so, Liam Neeson is on a quest to become the new action badass in town. He certainly proved it with Taken. Unknown was pretty great, I have been told The Grey is watchable. Taken 2 was a bit of a dud, but it really was almost the same as the first.
Unknown was a movie that saw Neeson wake up from a coma to learn that someone has taken his identity, and no one believes he is who he says he is. He then has to set out to figure out what is going on. It’s very twisty, and a little more psychological than a straight forward action movie. It was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who has also directed Non-Stop.
At first glance, Non-Stop seems to be another straightforward action movie starring Neeson. He’s an air marshal, and he’s got some issues – I love the 5 minutes in the car as the movie starts – it’s all the character development you need for Neeson’s portrayal of Bill Marks. He gets on his most recent assigned flight, makes small talk with a few passengers, then promptly gets a text that threatens to kill a passenger every 20 minutes until $150 million is delivered to an account number. Things get more complicated when his partner starts looking shady, and the account number is revealed to belong to him, and then people start dying.
It’s a very simple plot, but it’s carried out very well. Collet-Serra does a great job of building the suspicion and tension by quick camera shots of different passengers. Wait - those two shared a knowing glance! Oh, wait, maybe they didn't. Aha! This guys is suspicious! No, wait, he's not. I found myself starting to suspect all the passengers, and all the crew, but still not really being sure who was responsible. The reveal of the villain is surprising, and gets slightly preachy (understandably so) for a few minutes, but the movie is tense, claustrophobic, and very entertaining. Because you’re stuck in this plane the whole time, the point is to try and figure out which of the friendly, but suspicious, passengers and/or crew is involved.
- Liam Neeson as Bill Marks is very determined, slightly drunk, and extremely grumpy. But he does have a certain set of skills, and he puts them to good use in this movie. As things start to go more and more awry, he slowly goes from completely in control to almost completely out of control. He’s really great at these tense suspense thrillers, and I am glad his career has bent in this direction.
- Julianne Moore plays Jen Summers, a regular passenger (or is she?) on the plane who happens to end up next to the Marshall. She’s got her own nonsense backstory, and she’s certainly capable in this, making Jen perfectly friendly while also slightly suspicious.
- Scoot McNairy continues to have one of the most entertaining names in movie-dom and plays Tom Bowen in this. Bowen is another perfectly friendly but slightly suspicious passenger on this cross-Atlantic flight.
- Michelle Dockery plays Nancy, a perfectly friendly but also slightly suspicious flight attendant. Apparently she’s in Downton Abbey, but don’t take my word on that, I haven’t seen it. I know, I know, it’s all the rage – it just sounds really boring to me.
- Nate Parker plays Zack White – and while you may remember him from Red Tails and The Great Debaters, he’s pretty fun in this as a friendly but slightly suspicious passenger who is also a computer/cell phone programmer. That comes in pretty handy eventually.
- Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o plays a friendly but slightly suspicious flight attendant – I will assume she did this after 12 Years A Slave, and it’s fun to see her in something more lighthearted, even if she is barely in it.
- Omar Metwally plays the obligatory mid-eastern passenger who everyone starts to suspect. After all, he’s a friendly doctor, but he’s also slightly suspicious. I love the turn for his character as he suddenly has to start helping out – because apparently he’s the only doctor on the plane, and I’m pretty sure he said he was a microbiologist or something like that, so I’m not sure how helpful he would be if people just started passing out, but hey – he’s the only doctor on the plane.
- Jason Butler Harner plays the friendly but slightly suspicious co-pilot, Kyle Rice. There’s a bit of flirtation between him and Nancy the flight attendant, and he does get a heroic moment or two when he has to come up with a way to land the plane without upsetting their military escort.
- Thomas Wayne – I mean, Linus Roache, plays the confidently friendly but also slightly suspicious pilot David McMillan. After years pretending to be American on Law and Order SVU, he finally gets to use his own British accent here as he establishes, but then loses, control over his plane.
- Anson Mount plays the other Marshal on board, Jack Hammond. He’s friendly, but he’s also super suspicious. What is in his briefcase? Who is he talking to? What’s with his hair? Surely that’s not Air Marshal regulation hair?
- Corey Stoll plays Austin Reilly – a grumpy and slightly suspicious NYPD officer who happens to be on the flight. You’ve seen him recently in House of Cards, on Law and Order LA, and he’s been in multiple action movies, so he is going to look really familiar.
- Corey Hawkins plays belligerent and suspicious passenger Travis Mitchell – he’s the one who gets to complain about everything constantly.
- Frank Deal is another SVU vet who plays a very grumpy and very suspicious passenger, Charles Wheeler. There’s a lot of Law and Order people on this plane. He and Stoll and Hawkins’s characters all decide to work together, or do they?
- Shea Whigham plays the TSA head agent on the ground, and since he’s not on the plane, you really only hear his voice for the majority of the movie, until right at the end. He’s also slightly suspicious.
Overall, it’s worth checking out, not only because Key and Peele will be disappointed if you don’t, because it’s a really decent action flick that will keep you guessing until the end. It’s the perfect length for a movie like this. Grab some popcorn and go be entertained.
8 out of 10: Gained points for the suspense, who was it and why? Surely I have it right! No! I was wrong! Okay, now I know who it is! Crap – that person is dead now – I was wrong again! Lost points for the long speech the villain gives while explaining the reason for doing this. Similar to a Bond villain or even a Scooby Doo villain, “I would have gotten away with it too – if it wasn’t for you, Liam Neeson, and your particular set of skills!”
Bonus Video 1: Key and Peele and Neese’s Pieces. Out of context - you may be befuddled by this - watch the other sketches with the two valets, then it will make more sense. Or - just understand that these two valets really, really, really love Liam Neeson.
Bonus Video 2: Even Taken had a few blips
Bonus Video 3: Lego Movie Trailer – Just in case you haven’t seen this yet – go see it, Neeson steals the half of it that Will Arnett doesn’t.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews