Flightplan: A Review
It is a testament to the continued decline of air travel that Hollywood would have the audacity in recent months to crank out not one, but two movies -- Red-Eye and now Flightplan -- in which the very subject matter pretty much negates any chance of airline distribution.
As for Flightplan, Jodie Foster stars as Kyle Pratt, an engineer for a fictitious airline whose husband has died in an accidental fall. Amid the still-fresh grieving, Kyle and her 7-year-old daughter, Julie, leave Berlin, where the family has been living, to return to the United States for the husband's burial. This being movie magic, however, the Pratts board a mega-super-duper jet that Kyle actually helped design. The mother falls asleep ...
... and wakes up with Julia missing. Understandably frantic, Kyle enlists the help of Air Marshal Gene Carson (the always interesting and perennially stoned-looking Peter Sarsgaard), to search the huge plane. But still no child. To complicate matters, the flight crew isn't even sure there even was a child, since there is no boarding pass or other documentation to prove the girl was a passenger.
As high concepts go, it's not a bad one; it certainly worked for Hitchcock in 1938's The Lady Vanishes. Director Robert Schwentke sharpens the little anxieties that can stem from air travel -- particularly when a seemingly crazy woman is running down the aisles hollering about a phantom child. Heightening the sense of claustrophobia, Schwentke shoots his actors mainly in closeups, sometimes extreme closeup, and usually addressing the camera so as to encourage the audience's identification with the mortified mother. Moreover, Flightplan proves adroit at capturing the casual irritations of air travel, particularly the dismissiveness of flight attendants (although the flight's token "good" attendant is an utterly wasted Erika Christensen).
Anchoring it all is Foster's mesmerizing performance, turning what could have been a one-note portrayal into a complex character who is simultaneously vulnerable and strong. She more than earns her paycheck.
Alas, sometimes a fantastic concept for a film is just too fantastic for its own good. Flightplan is a case in point. Screenwriters Peter Dowling and Billy Ray strain to find rationale for the magnificent mystery they have set up, but the task proves too daunting. It is a credit to the filmmakers that Flightplan manages a suspenseful two-thirds before the final act asks its audience to swallow SUV-sized absurdities.
Perhaps it is only fitting that co-writer Billy Ray wrote and directed the excellent Shattered Glass, which chronicled real-life reporter Stephen Glass, who invented outrageous stories and passed them off as truth. The implausible caper at the heart of Flightplan could have been a Stephen Glass special.