Liam Neeson plays a deeply troubled, Irish-born federal air marshal on a flight from London to New York. Shortly after take-off he starts getting weird text messages from an unknown sender threatening to kill someone on board unless $150 million is in a bank account within 20 minutes. And another person will die with every subsequent 20 minutes passing. Neeson tries his best to finger the culprit before any harm is done, but also alerting the least amount of people necessary. Unfortunately, the finger starts to be pointed in his direction, especially when some genius passenger films Neeson’s erratic behaviour and puts it online. Julianne Moore plays a passenger and Michelle Dockery a flight attendant, the only two real supporters he has, let alone the only two he trusts. This on a flight with another air marshal (Anson Mount), mind you. The two don’t really get along so well and Mount is Neeson’s first suspect. Lupita Nyong’o is another flight attendant, whilst Scoot McNairy and Jon Abrahams play nervous passengers, and Shea Whigham’s voice can be heard as a TSA agent who believes Neeson to be a terrorist hijacking the plane.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”, “Orphan”) and star Liam Neeson follow up their nifty, Hitchcockian thriller “Unknown” with another twisty mystery from 2014. It’s the kind of film where you think you’ve got it all worked out very early on, then lose your bearings through distractions and plausible red herrings, before realising you were right all along. Only, you weren’t right, you changed your mind, remember? Can’t claim it now, and in my case I can’t claim it at all because I would’ve only been 50% right. Well done to Mr. Collet-Serra and his screenwriters John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach (first-timers). You fooled me, you clever buggers. I feel like an idiot for not sticking to my guns throughout. It’s a jolly good yarn that represents what “Flightplan” could and should’ve been, but that film went down a less interesting route.
We open with a glum Liam Neeson pouring alcohol into his coffee. It makes me worry about the guy when he keeps taking on these brooding roles. But the truth is, he’s good at them, and he’s the right guy for the gig here. He’s perfect and a sturdy presence on screen. Sure, you’re about 99% sure that he’s the one guy who isn’t likely to be the villain, but the film tries to throw doubt at you and Neeson’s just enough of a mess here to put a bit of doubt in your mind from time to time. We certainly get a lot of other possible suspects, some more likely than others, but enough of them to throw me off the scent after a while, as I said earlier. I’m not entirely certain that Julianne Moore is used to her best advantage, however. She’s never really a suspect because we clearly see her sleeping at a very important moment, so what other purpose does she serve? Were some of her scenes left on the cutting room floor? Having said that, at least Moore has a sizeable role, whether it has depth/purpose or not. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) has about three lines of dialogue and a few brief scenes as a nondescript flight attendant. What the fuck? Fire your agent, sweetie. You got screwed (Or was this filmed before “12 Years a Slave”?). Aside from some shakiness from cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano (“Unknown”), it’s a rather nifty-looking, slick film. The film occasionally plays on post-9/11 fears and narrowly gets away with it, without being foul or exploitative. But it only just gets away with it, it’s a little uneasy towards the end I must say.
This is classic B-movie stuff with a Hitchcockian bent. I love this kind of thing, and Collet-Serra keeps up the tension and suspense throughout. Nice job, sir. It’s a film to enjoy in the moment (i.e. Don’t think too hard about logic or it probably all crumbles before your very eyes), and I can’t imagine too many people being underwhelmed by this one. It’s a nice companion piece to the earlier “Unknown”.