Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Marlene Lawston, Erika Christensen, Kate Beahan. (2005, PG-13, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 23, 2005
No longer the ingenue, Jodie Foster is still a topliner but has entered her 40s with another mother-in-distress role. Remember Panic Room? Foster’s moms are smart and kick some serious butt, yet it’s depressing to note that this kind of work is the best Hollywood has to offer to a double Oscar winner. In Flightplan, which aims to be a Hitchcockian-type thriller set within the tight quarters of a jetliner, Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a grieving aeronautics engineer who, with her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Lawston), is accompanying her dead husband’s body home for burial on a intercontinental flight from Berlin to New York. Once the flight takes off, Pratt and her daughter stretch out for a nap, but when she wakes up three hours later her daughter is missing. Even though no one can remember ever having seen her daughter onboard the flight, a search of the double-decker airplane is begun, and when no sign of Julia’s whereabouts surface Pratt grows increasingly frantic. Then it’s revealed that the child’s name is not listed on the passenger manifest, and the crew begins to doubt the widow’s sanity. Pratt is at first aided in the search by air marshal Gene Carson (Sarsgaard), who later cuffs and restrains her as worries about Pratt’s disruption of the flight grow. (Note to pilots: If any passenger ever jumps to the rescue and declares themself to be an air marshal, please ask to see their ID or badge.) The first half of Flightplan is taut and reasonably thrilling – a sort of Das Boot on an airplane. The relative spaciousness of the double-decker jetliner allows the characters extra space to roam, and as Pratt knows the inner workings of an airplane we get to see the avionics area and cargo holds below. The early parts of the movie also set a creepy tone as things seen out of the corner of Pratt’s eye or words overheard in snatches of dialogue penetrate her consciousness without really making a dent. Pratt’s sanity, however, is never really in doubt for the viewer, despite the disapproving clucks of annoyance she receives from the flight crew and other passengers. And any viewer not suspicious of Carson from the get-go should be sent to Remedial Movie-Watching 101. The last third of the movie devolves into a vicious cat-and-mouse chase as Pratt begins to figure out what’s going on (and it’s pretty far-fetched), and she still has to find her daughter while eluding the bad guys. Director Schwentke's sleek images reveal a bent for weird angles and disorienting viewpoints (the DP is Florian Ballhaus, son of master cinematographer Michael Ballhaus), while the script (by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray) maintains a contemptuous attitude toward the disinterested flight crew and its obnoxious passengers – all 425 of them. Flightplan should have remained grounded for repairs.