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FLIGHTPLAN (PG-13) (2005)


Official Site

Director: Robert Schwentke

Producer: Brian Grazer

Written by: Billy Ray, Peter Dowling

Cast: Jodie Foster, Sean Bean, Peter Sarsgaard, Erika Christensen


Flightplan, the new thriller from Touchstone Pictures, features the great Jodie Foster as an airline engineer living in Berlin, where her husband has just committed suicide by throwing himself off their high-rise apartment roof. Following a series of beautifully composed vignettes which detail Foster’s departure from Berlin with her six-year-old daughter in tow, the grieving widow climbs aboard a massive new airliner on a cold, winter evening in order to return her husband’s body to New York City.

After a few hours, when we have been introduced to some fellow passengers, including the always-fun-to-watch Peter Saarsgard (Boys Don’t Cry) as an air marshal, and Erika Christensen (Traffic) as a flight attendant, Foster wakes up from a nap to find that her daughter has wandered away from her seat. Trying not to panic, she searches the airplane from top to bottom. But it doesn’t take long before Foster’s paranoia (or motherly instinct, depending on your point of view) kicks into high gear and she engages the staff of the flight, particularly the captain (played by the Irish actor Sean Bean), to help find the lost child. Foster quickly becomes convinced that her daughter has been kidnapped and that the conspirators are aboard and, gasp(!), that they are probably a gang of Arab terrorists who plan to highjack the plane, using her daughter as bait. Well, Foster might not be too far off. Or she might be completely insane. That’s what the screenwriters Billy Ray and Peter Dowling want you to think.

What the hell is actually going on here? There are a few clues along the way that I won’t reveal here for obvious reasons, but effectively the filmmakers have crafted a neatly spiraling thriller that doesn’t give itself away too easily. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the best part of Flightplan lies somewhere near the middle, when most films begin to drag and fall apart. Here, the fun in watching Foster lose her mind as the uncooperative flight crew creates more and more havoc means a lot of nail biting and some genuinely good laughs.

The film’s claustrophobic setting seems to be Foster’s taste of choice lately. Her most recent effort, Panic Room, released over three years ago, was also set in a confined space. That film also featured a mother with a young daughter in peril. Perhaps it’s the fact that Foster is herself a mother of young children who wishes to remain close to her family, picking roles that don’t require her to leave Los Angeles. Whatever the reason, the inevitable close-ups in films of this sort could not be better suited to Foster’s gifted expressiveness, her anguish and uncertainty a model for any actor.

The film’s unfortunate flaws are unveiled just as the pace should begin to accelerate in the third act. Instead, a murky and utterly convoluted explanation lies at the plot’s center. In fact, the resolution is downright preposterous. So the conclusion to the ride that might have been unforgettable is merely mediocre. This despite Foster’s harrowing performance—she throws in every ounce of emotion she can muster, and it’s a joy to watch her struggle with her own conscious doubts.

The director, Robert Schwentke, does his best in creating a mood and pace that suck the viewer in. He has a visual style that is pleasing to the eye and he clearly enjoys letting a scene breathe and play itself out, rather than jump-cutting from moment to moment, which often results in dizzying nausea. What Schwentke lacks, however, is a deeper sense of menace and suspense. Most of the blame, however, should fall on the script itself, which by the end of the film stretches the believability quotient to impossible heights. It’s tough to make a great thriller. Over 10 years ago Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones starred in one of the best ever made, The Fugitive. No one will applaud Foster for doing the same here, but it’s a fun ride nevertheless.

—Tiffany Crouch Bartlett

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