Jodie Foster and Marlene Lawston in Touchstone Pictures' Flightplan - 2005
Well, it would seem that the doldrums of the post-Summer/pre-Fall release season are over, and the heavy hitters have started coming out of the dugout. This weekend it was The Corpse Bride and Flightplan, and it’ll be all event movies from here on out. Unfortunately, our first offering doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year. While The Corpse Bride is getting mostly glowing reviews, I chose to go watch Jodie Foster wreak havoc at 30,000 feet. Flightplan, while well acted and engaging, is far off the mark where plausibility is concerned.
Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an aircraft engineer based in Berlin. After the tragic death of her husband, Kyle leaves her job and, with daughter in tow, boards a plane for New York. But this is no ordinary plane. An oversized luxury jet, this aircraft happens to be the very one Kyle helped design, giving her an edge for the trouble to come. That trouble comes swiftly when, after a brief nap, Kyle wakes to find her daughter missing. After a frantic search, the crew begin to ask the sensible question: “Just how far can a little girl go, trapped on an airplane?” Soon thereafter, that question seems to have an answer as word comes from the ground that Kyle’s daughter died days before. Is she crazy or is there a grand conspiracy? It’s up to a tenacious Jodie Foster to either find her daughter or take everyone down trying.
The acting in Flightplan ranges from good to stellar, with the inimitable Foster on the far end of the spectrum. Jodie Foster does only a few movies a decade, it seems, which leads me to wonder why she chose this one. She rises far above the potboiler plot and brings a combination of fragility and strength that you would normally not expect in a movie like this. This is, essentially, an Ashley Judd role, being masterfully played by an Oscar winning thespian. Also good are Sean Bean as the beleaguered captain, and Peter Sarsgaard as the air marshal.
What’s not good, particularly, is the plot. Flightplan, while it delves into the psychology of loss and mixes that with the claustrophobia of a packed airliner, is pretty good. I bought it. I was into it. It had me. However, when the screws begin to turn and the twists begin to twist, all logic and attention to reality seem to go out the window. I won’t give away the ending, although I think you’ll be angry like I was. Once again Hollywood asks us to swallow a plot with so much complexity, so much machination, that one tiny error or flaw would destroy it all. A good friend of mine likens this scriptwriting tendency to building the Eiffel Tower, in all its glory, but having it set so that a tiny push on one strut would bring the whole thing down around your head. I’m tired of being forced to suspend my disbelief far beyond the breaking point, simply for a twisty ending.
Flightplan, though it’s not a huge problem, also blunders through some social commentary by placing some young Arab men on the flight. Are they the villains, victims, or are they a red herring? Yours to guess, but considering the political climate in the world today, it shouldn’t take you long. I didn’t really mind the device, it made me think of Hitchcock in some ways, but the use of these characters is somewhat ham-handed and I was a little embarrassed, though I’m not sure for who.
All in all, this film is about 3/4 exciting and dramatic. Unfortunately, it’s that last 1/4 that really counts. Ridiculous and unbelievable, Flightplan starts big and loud, but ends with a whimper. There is only so much that talented actors can do, and after that, the story has to speak for itself. With Flightplan, believability is delayed and delayed before it is finally cancelled. Grade: C+
Flightplan is rated PG-13 for brief language and violence.
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