3 out of 5 stars
Starring Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard. Written by Peter A Dowling, Billy Ray. Directed by Robert Schwentke. (PG) 98 min. Opens Sep 23.
For over an hour, Flightplan is a brilliantly sustained crescendo of anxiety and uncertainty, with characters asking just the right questions just as they occur to you. German director Robert Schwentke doles out plot information sparingly, creating a mood by showing a haggard Jodie Foster quietly implode before he tells us what happened to her or when. It's best to experience Flightplan as it unfolds, so here's just a glimmer of the plot: Kyle Pratt (Foster) takes a transatlantic flight with her daughter. A few hours into the flight, her daughter goes missing. The crew tell Kyle her child was never on board.
Every detail about Kyle and her eerie-looking daughter, the glib attitude of the crew and the gleaming interior of the double-decker jet is established with such painstaking realism that you're left praying that the mystery doesn't go to places best left Forgotten.
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Then, clumsily, there's a big reveal that puts the audience a step ahead of Kyle. The rest of the film is a workmanlike thriller, a disappointment considering how many emotions were tugged at in the first hour. Did the filmmakers paint themselves into a corner with the premise, or could a smarter writer have come up with a better answer to its riddle? Internet message boards are buzzing with more interesting speculation than the movie delivers.
Foster is a fearsomely focused presence, playing up Kyle's existential loneliness in ways that beg to be developed in the script. Sean Bean is convincingly sympathetic as the captain forced to restrain Kyle, but Peter Sarsgaard doesn't have the gravitas for his role as a concerned fellow passenger. He looks too much in need of a nap.
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