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
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