Director : s Robert Schwentke
Screenplay : Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Jodie Foster (Kyle), Peter Sarsgaard (Carson), Sean Bean (Captain Rich), Kate Beahan (Stephanie), Michael Irby (Obaid), Assaf Cohen (Ahmed), Erika Christensen (Fiona)
Taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), Flightplan is about a seemingly impossible disappearance in a confined space. Hitchcock’s story took place on a train, whereas Flightplan’s story unspools almost entirely aboard a massive new jet airliner, one that has two stories, hundreds of seats, numerous bathrooms and galleys, and even a bar/lounge. Yet, even as large as it is, the fact that it is 36,000 feet in the air when a child disappears logically demands that she is still somewhere in the plane.
Unless, of course, she didn’t exist in the first place. This is the twist screenwriters Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray throw into the works, thus making the story hinge for a long period of time not on where the little girl is, but the sanity of the mother who is frantically searching for her. The mother, Kyle, is played by Jodie Foster, whose last major screen outing was three years ago in David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002), a superior thriller in which she also played a desperate and resourceful mother fighting to save her daughter. Clearly, as a mother of two herself, Foster feels drawn to these protective characters, and she imbues them with a determined sense of intelligence and, most importantly, tenacity.
Flightplan opens in Germany, where Kyle’s husband has recently died in an accident. A few brief scenes show her “interacting” with her husband in what may be flashbacks or simply waking dreams, but they are enough to plant the seed of potential delusion in our minds. This is further exacerbated by the manner in which director Robert Schwentke (who is making his English-language debut) stages the scenes with Kyle and her six-year-old daughter. Schwentke virtually always eliminates any other human from the frame when Kyle and her daughter interact, which suggests that the daughter might not physically exist. Did she die, too? This seems to be what happened, as the captain (Sean Bean) and an onboard air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) confirm with the morgue that Kyle’s daughter died at the same time as her husband.
Of course, Flightplan is a mainstream Hollywood thriller, one that ultimately wants to deliver a feel-good coda in which mother and daughter are reunited in some form or another, but it has just enough tricks up its sleeve and sleight-of-hand misdirection to keep it compelling, even when the villain starts lumbering through an explanation of why everything has happened the way it did. Unfortunately, once everything is explained, the plot is revealed as being so utterly ludicrous that you feel silly for ever having fallen for any of it.
If the second half of the movie comes off as a letdown, it is largely because the first half was so good. Flightplan suffers from a malady typical of these kinds of thrillers, which set forth a goose-bumpy scenario that seems to have no possible explanation, but then supplies one. The problem is that the set-up is so good that the eventual explanation always ends up feeling trite and contrived. There is a fascination with the impossible that the logical always ruins, and the only way to truly live up to the premise is to answer with something much farther out in left field than Hollywood is typically willing to go.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 Touchstone Pictures