Action Blu-ray Review

Business Class Blu-ray Review: Non-Stop

June 10, 2014Ben MK

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Fight or flight

By Ben Mk

There comes a point in every actor's career when his/her starring vehicle is a hijacked plane. Wesley Snipes did it in Passenger 57; ditto for Kurt Russell in Executive Decision; hell, even Harrison Ford took up the challenge in Air Force One. And now Liam Neeson can tick that box on his resume as well. In Non-Stop, he joins that exclusive mile-high club, re-teaming with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra for a mid-air murder mystery high above the Atlantic Ocean. But while there are no snakes on this plane, there's something even deadlier — Neeson's fists.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a man battling the bottle and battling his fear of flying (actually, he's just never gotten used to the take-offs), who also happens to be carrying some excess emotional baggage on his way from New York City to London. Bill isn't your ordinary airline passenger, but then again, this isn't your ordinary non-stop transatlantic flight. As he prepares to board, he surveys the other passengers for signs of suspicious activity — all part of his responsibilities as a Federal Air Marshal for the TSA. But what begins as a routine assignment takes a deadly turn, when midway through the trip he receives a series of anonymous text messages from someone threatening to kill one person every 20 minutes — unless 150 million dollars is deposited into an off-shore bank account.

As he narrows down the list of potential suspects, shades of a disturbing conspiracy begin to emerge — and when it becomes apparent that someone is trying to frame him as a hijacker, he must find a way to clear his name and put a stop to the situation before the body count rises even further. Could the real culprit be fellow Air Marshal Jack Hammond (Hell on Wheels' Anson Mount), fellow passenger Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy) or seatmate Jen Summers (Julianne Moore)? Also along for the ride are 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o (sporting a funky Grace Jones haircut) and Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery, as a couple of flight attendants, as well as Batman Begins' Linus Roache as the waylaid flight's steadfast pilot.

Collet-Serra doesn't stray far from the formula of his previous feature, Unknown. Once again, Neeson is dropped smack dab in the middle of a Hitchcockian mystery that only he's qualified to solve — one that requires deductive reasoning and a bit of good old fashioned brute force. Luckily, we, the audience, know that he's up to the task. Most of the fun comes from watching him tear his way through the plane's cabin like a bat out of hell, trying to get to the bottom of things. Occasionally, when he encounters an obstacle that his intellect can't overcome, that's when the gloves come off (or the handgun comes out). And that's when the picture ascends to a higher altitude. The action scenes in the close quarters of Economy Class are visceral and brutally satisfying, even if they are too few and far between, proving yet again that nobody messes with Mr. Neeson and lives to tell the tale.

But the question on everyone's minds is, "How do you kill someone on a crowded plane and get away with it?" In other words, there are only so many false leads screenwriters John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle can throw at the audience before the situation becomes patently ridiculous and the plot starts wearing thin. But thankfully, it never does. Chalk that up to the film's solid performances (although Nyong'o, Dockery and Roach's talents are woefully underused), slick production design (keeping the back-and-forth texting from becoming mundane) and wry sense of humor (the highlight of which has Neeson subduing a crowd of angry passengers by offering everyone unlimited free international flights for a year), all of which make an ocean of difference in keeping the film feeling fresh.

Non-Stop debuts on Blu-ray with an HD presentation that's top-flight from start to finish. From the glossy opening titles, which give way to an impressively resolved close-up of an unshaven and gruff-looking Neeson, it's clear that we're in for a visual treat — and Universal's Blu-ray transfer doesn't disappoint. Draped in a fine layer of film grain, the image perfectly replicates the intentions of cinematographer Flavio Labiano (who also worked with Collet-Serra on Unknown). Fine detail is prevalent throughout, not only in the faces, hair and wardrobe of the cast, but also in the environment, such as in the instrumentation of the plane's cockpit. Colors benefit from excellent contrast and saturation, which enhances the film's strong teal presence and makes the auburn of Moore's hair and the maroon and navy blue of the flight attendants' uniforms pop. The disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is no slouch either, rendering the suspense and action atmospherics — including composer John Ottman's chameleon-like score — with the utmost care and ensuring that the full scope of the film's soundstage — from the high-pitched 'ding' of the text message alerts to the low-frequency rumble of jet engines — is aptly represented.

DVD and iTunes/UltraViolet digital copies of the film are included with Universal's Blu-ray release, which also sports a couple of brief HD extras in the form of the 5-minute Non-Stop Action and the 8-minute Suspense at 40,000 Feet. The former is a Blu-ray exclusive that places the focus squarely on the film's action-oriented elements, especially the technical challenges of staging and shooting fight scenes in a confined space, while the latter deals exclusively with the whodunnit aspect of the story, particularly the filmmakers' efforts to keep the audience guessing about the identity of the perpetrator. Both of these featurettes are comprised of a mixture of film clips, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.

Non-Stop doesn't deviate much from the proven "Liam Neeson, action hero for hire" template established by Unknown and the Taken series; but it manages to impress by just doing what it does, and doing it well. And as a competently-scripted and well-executed vehicle for Neeson to once again showcase his detective skills and prowess in pummeling his enemies, the movie is definitely pure popcorn fun. Universal's Blu-ray release soars with a first-class A/V presentation; and even though its slim selection of extras barely gets off the runway, that's still enough to make Non-Stop on Blu-ray worth enduring the leg cramps of a long-haul flight for.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on February 28th, 2014.

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