Film Face-off: 'Taken' vs. 'Non-Stop'

Film Face-off: 'Taken' vs. 'Non-Stop'

Mar 03, 2014

Liam Neeson has a specific set of skills. Namely, he can look stern and kick ass. We didn't always know he had this capability. He was a doctor alongside Jodie Foster in Nell. He was Mr. Schindler in Schindler's List. But I've never seen either of those films, one of which is my dirty movie secret (the definition of a dirty movie secret is the film you should be most ashamed that you haven't seen). In 2008, we felt the Neeson Shift as historians call it. He starred in Taken, and with the help of a tight, basic script cowritten by Luc Besson and directed by Pierre Morel, Neeson had a new direction.

It hasn't stopped. That's right, his direction is nonstop, which is probably why they named his new film Non-Stop.

 

The Lead

Taken

Neeson plays Bryan Mills. He's a retired CIA agent whose daughter has been kidnapped in Europe. Now he must do whatever it takes to get her back. He's resourceful.

Non-Stop

Neeson is Bill Marks. He's an air marshal flying on a nonstop flight from New York to London. A series of text messages make him believe his passengers are at risk. He's resourceful.

Winner: Taken. Let's dive deeper with both characters. Bill smokes and is an alcoholic. He's good at thinking on his feet and has great hand-to-hand combat skills. Unfortunately he's tired, giving him occasionally blurred vision. He's also a nervous flier. Not exactly what you're looking for from an air marshal. Bill shows he's resourceful by using duct tape to prevent the smoke detector going off in the lavatory. Bryan is meticulous. Just watch him wrap his daughter's present. He makes sure she's also very well prepared for her overseas trip, but is a little anal with his instructions. Thankfully he can enter an attack mode like no other, and that's why he gets the win.

 

The Ladies

Taken

Maggie Grace is Bryan's daughter, Kim. Famke Janssen is Bryan's ex-wife, Lenore. Holly Valance is a pop star named Sheerah.

Non-Stop

Julianne Moore is passenger Jen Summer. Michelle Dockery is flight attendant Nancy. Lupita Nyong'o is flight attendant Gwen.

Winner: Non-Stop. The star power of Non-Stop's women definitely is greater than Taken's. More importantly, the characters aren't annoying. Kim is 17 in Taken, but acts 12. With Non-Stop, Moore is almost always engaging and as Bill's sidekick she's actually able to make you think about being an ordinary person thrust into this insane situation. Dockery proves she can be an ordinary Jane, not just her elitist character from Downton Abbey. It's amusing to see Nyong'o, mainly because they clearly didn't realize she is capable of being an Oscar-winning actress. They give her lines like, "I can't believe this. This is crazy," which is only amusing because we now know from 12 Years a Slave that she can do so much more.

 

The Best Scene

Taken

Bryan is tracking down bad guys in Europe. He enters a kitchen and gets one of the guys to say, "Good luck."

Non-Stop

Bill is not trying to hijack the plane, he's trying to save it. At a key moment, his gun floats up, he catches it and shoots.

Winner: Taken. Non-Stop's best scene made me laugh with joy. It is the same kind of pleasure as when Arnold Schwarzenegger picks up the giant gun in Escape Plan. The scene with Taken didn't involve laughter, just wide eyes. Once you realize Bryan has found the guy who he talked with on the phone when his daughter was kidnapped, you assume he'll regroup. After all, he's terribly outnumbered. With the help of a knife and gun he takes out everyone in his path. It's the first moment you realize he's cutting to the chase, whereas most action films take the long road.

 

The Worst Scenes

Taken

The beginning 15 minutes with Bryan working for a pop star and saying good-bye to his daughter are rough. The final 10 minutes are painful.

Non-Stop

Bill makes a speech to all of the passengers, letting them know he's looking out for them. He also has a heart-to-heart with Jen.

Winner: Non-Stop. The bad in Non-Stop is less bad than Taken's. If I had only seen the middle 68 minutes of Taken I would be fully in love with the film. Unfortunately, I can't forget Kim yelling "Daddy!" and awkwardly running up to him (more than once). The near-purposeless pop star does show Bryan in action, but we could have waited for that once he got to Europe. Consider the ending of Taken. Do we care if Kim gets singing lessons from Sheerah? I bet there was a version of that script where Bryan dies after saving his daughter. It would have been nice because Sheerah wouldn't have reappeared, and we wouldn't have had Taken 2. With Non-Stop, Bill has two supposedly heartfelt conversations that contain way too much information. It's bad, but it probably only fills up four minutes of screen time.

 

The Thrills

Taken

I already mentioned the kitchen fight, but beyond anything else Taken has to offer, it's when Bryan shoots Jean-Claude's wife.

Non-Stop

It is a consistent guessing game with Non-Stop with plenty of opportunities for you to think you know who is behind the killings.

Winner: Taken. When Bryan shoots Jean-Claude's wife, my first thought was, "He can't do that. It's against movie rules." It felt kind of like how dogs don't die (unless that's the point of the entire film). I couldn't wait to see what Bryan would be willing to do next. The guessing game of Non-Stop definitely keeps your interest. From the beginning you're scanning the screen trying to see if you can spot the evil. I ended up guessing correctly, but definitely had my doubts throughout the film. Unfortunately, once you know who is who, it doesn't feel like it pays off.

 

OVERALL WINNER: Taken beats Non-Stop, 3-2.

Non-Stop is an entertaining B-movie thriller. Taken is just a little bit better. That doesn't mean I'm holding out hope for Taken 3. In fact, it's another Neeson shift I'm hoping for. With his cameo in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and his Good Cop/Bad Cop in The Lego Movie, Neeson has proven to be funny, or at least serious enough in a funny world, where we can laugh at him. On May 30, we'll know for sure if comedy will continue for Neeson. He's the lead in Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West. Even without seeing it, it's probably safe to say this will be the funniest Western comedy since Blazing Saddles. Sorry, Wagons East. You know it's true.

 

 

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