The heart of every mystery is the construction of the outcome. Some of the greatest detective stories, including Sherlock Holmes, will have people “outed” as the ones that did the dirty deed that seem so far from the most obvious choice that readers (or watchers if they’re observing a movie) will need to think about the clues that they were given with the detective and maybe even go back to see that the unassuming can suddenly become clear.
There is never a crime where all the footprints can be erased. The villain will have to eventually drop something that can lead them to them.
One of the greatest movie makers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, loved making mysteries like North by Northwest and Rear Window that had a large cast of characters where anyone could be helping or hurting the hero.
Jimmy Stewart spent the majority of the story in his room, as he was trying to determine whether his neighbor was a murderer only through evidence that he found from across apartments. Spencer Tracy went on a cross-country journey with a shadowy woman that may be the only one that can free him from status as a target from the FBI and bad guys.
What both movies had in common was that they were built in such a manner that their outcomes were the only way things could have transpired. Non-Stop is the latest situation on this week with Murder Mystery Theater (or cinema in this case).
Bill Marks (played by Liam Neeson) is an air marshal who is suffering from alcoholism, a divorce, and a fear of planes taking off. Yet despite all these reasons for him to quit his job, he’s en route on another non-stop flight between New York and London.
While over the Atlantic Ocean, Marks begins to receive text messages on his secure phone line stating that someone on the plane is going to die every twenty minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a specific bank account. He talks with the other air marshal to see if he is playing a joke on him.
Through a series of altercations and deaths right at the twenty minute mark, the other passengers become convinced that Marks himself is hijacking the plane. Marks looks to the businesswomen who sat next to him on the plane (played by Julianne Moore), a phone app developer, a strung-out NYPD officer, and several other people as the one that might be the real killer.
Placing a murderer on a crowded airplane is not a bad idea, and with a lot of the technological advantages smartphones play into the story along with in-flight entertainment systems giving information to other passengers, Non-Stop seems to have a lot of the elements necessary for a good thriller. In fact, I was on the edge to see who had done it. So what’s wrong with the story?
What prevents it from fully taking off is the hero. Liam Neeson plays his tough cop character that we’ve already seen in Taken, but it’s certainly enjoyable. But why make him an alcoholic? To make him likable? It’s not too hard to make a jerk character at least sympathetic as long as he’s relatable. As I said the mystery is a good one, but the third act also suffers from going too over the top in a crash sequence that looks unbelievably fake (it’s so computer generated that I almost thought I was watching a Pixar film) and only put in as an ending to satisfy action fans. It could have all ended in the air.
I’ll give this three threatening text messages out of five. Non-Stop could have been a Hitchcock-like thriller if it had made a more interesting character and a slower third act, but I certainly was entertained.
Robert T. Nickerson is a film critic. His work can be seen at mastermindfilmproductions.com.