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Cinema in Focus: ‘Non-Stop’

3 Stars — Suspenseful

Although we strive to be safe in a world of obvious danger, safety is an illusion. From the seatbelts in our cars to security screenings in our airports, the government uses both laws and force to try to create traffic safety on our highways and keep terrorists off our airplanes. But any thinking person realizes at some level that no government can protect us from all harm. Though we may mostly suppress our fears, the result is a shared archetypal tension tapped into by artistically creative minds.

Perhaps the best current example of that is Jaume Collet-Serra's film Non-Stop. Although there have been many films exploring the imprisoned dangers of air travel, this story weaves a nuanced tale that is both believable and horrifying.

Based on the story by John W. Richardson and Chris Roach, who also write the adapted screenplay, the central character is a troubled alcoholic who is a reluctant air marshal. Having lost his daughter to cancer, Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is medicating his grief and fears with alcohol. Angrily telling his TSA supervisor that he does not want to take his current assignment, it is not surprising that he is panicked as soon as the plane lifts off. But this tension is only the beginning.

Marks is soon contacted on the secure network of the TSA and told that unless $150 million is transferred to an offshore account, someone will be killed every 20 minutes. It is then that an inventive web of intrigue, horror and psychological manipulation begins.

Caught in this web is an ensemble of characters, each essential to the tale with unexpected plot twists and wonderful character development. The beautiful Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) connives her way into the seat next to Marks, while the arrogant Zack White (Nate Parker) grants her appeal. The competent head stewardess Nancy (Michelle Dockery) is in a relationship with the co-pilot while the other air marshal, Jack Hammond (Anson Mount), is in his own set of struggles. There is a NY policeman, an Arabic physician, a teacher and 150 others on the plane, all of whom are trapped in this tale with each one providing an important ingredient to the story.

The suspicion with which Marks views the world is that literally every person in the waiting area and every person seated onboard or working the galleys or even flying the plane are possible suspects. Isolated by his impaired thoughts and pervasive distrust, he is alone in his time of greatest need.

This is often the consequence of living a life of isolation in a world where danger can come from any or all fronts. Where trust creates a foundation for relationships, distrust erodes any partnership that could have been achieved. When this distrust reaches a zealous state that is willing to both kill and die, then we are trapped in an inevitable crash both personally and collectively.

That is the literal and figurative situation in Non-Stop, a well-executed film of suspense without spiritual or social value except in pointing out the absence of both spiritual faith and social connection resulting in a disastrous mix of isolation and suspicion.

Discussion

» When you go through security to fly a plane or enter a stadium, how do you deal with the inferred danger you have chosen? Do you try not to think about it, or do you face your fear?

» The ability of these writers to create distrust in almost every person in the tale makes it very difficult to know in advance where the tale is going. Were you able to know in advance how the final scenes would end? What cued you in?

» The use of alcohol to deal with life has destroyed many people. Who or what do you turn to when life becomes overwhelming or disappointing? How does your way of dealing with life work for you or not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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