Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra. Have I mentioned that I like Liam Neeson? A friend of mine recently turned me onto another possible level of interpretation, which makes Neeson’s whole oeuvre all the more interesting. I’d forgotten that his real-life wife passed away in a tragic skiing accident, but it’s true, and it’s just too easy to read his face, that trademark look in his star image of a broken man, a world-weary man carrying the grief of the world on his shoulders, as a reflection of his real life loss. This interview with Anderson Cooper is my first and only bit of research, but holy shit—that hangdog look on his face as he tells Cooper about how he often visits his wife’s grave on their yard, how he keeps her stuff in the house as it was, how it’s still her house, etc, that is the same face as the tortured, stoic father figures in Taken, Gangs of New York, Phantom Menace, The Grey, and this movie. And also—it’s the same tortured, hangdog, grief-worn face that he self-parodies in that famous clip in the Ricky Gervais series Life’s Too Short. This isn’t to say that I don’t completely empathize with him, because I do, and really, that empathy plays into why I love watching him onscreen so much. No matter how cheesy the scenario, no matter how repetitious or predictable the story is, I am thoroughly enjoying this process of going through the Liam Neeson cycle of films. When you get on an actor’s filmography like this, it’s like watching a sub-genre: the point isn’t in how similar everything is, it’s in relishing the small differences, and appreciating the same structure in a new context. In this context, the shattered father figure is an alcoholic Federal Marshall on an airplane who has to uncover a mysterious set of texts that gradually egg him onto actions that frame him as a plane hijacker. It’s a classic Hitchcock-via-Phillip K. Dick story, focussed to the point of claustrophobia, suspenseful to the point of paranoia, but ultimately resolving in a credibility-stretching Hollywood ending. Neeson movies are almost self-conscious by this point: after the instant-classic status of his speech at the beginning of Taken, it’s a standard expectation now to let Liam utter some exasperated, near-monosyllablic speech at some point. “I’m not a good man, I’m not a good father, but I’m not trying to blow up this plane!” And really, that’s all we need to hear, his trust is instantly won, because of his sheer sincerity, because we can see the grief on his face. Liam fucking Neeson. This is another great movie for supporting actors, first of all Julianne Moore, who is again, totally overqualified for the role, but it gives a great bit of intelligence to the movie: you’re never totally sure about any of the passengers because they’re all suspect. And Moore has such gravity that we’re expecting the film to do something really juicy with her acting abilities, the potential for her to be the criminal mastermind is so high, but—psych!—nope, she’s just a standard, boring, “female lead” with nothing to do but support the male lead, just like always. Oh welp. Lupita Nyong’o, again, super over-qualified for the 2 seconds of screentime she gets. Oh welp. The tortured guy from the first season of House of Cards is great, I hope I see him more. And my man Scoot does a great job here. Scoot McNairy has been popping up in small, scene-stealing roles in everything from Killing Them Softly, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, Gone Girl, and now this. He’s coming up from the sidelines to be the character actor of our times the way everyone thinks Michael Shannon is, and the way I was hoping Garret Dillahunt would be. Keep on Scootin’, Scoot. And this director is responsible for 2 other Neeson flicks, so guess where I’m heading.