Reviewed by FORREST HARTMAN
Gannett News Service
Original publication: 09/22/05
Jodie Foster's new aircraft drama, "Flightplan," takes off well, but boy is the landing bumpy.
Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an airplane designer devastated by her husband's unexpected death. Kyle's salvation is her young daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), and she decides to move from their Berlin home to live with her parents in America. Julia was so traumatized by her father's death that she doesn't want to leave, but Kyle persuades her to board a huge, new passenger plane that she had a hand in designing.
Once aboard, the unthinkable happens. Kyle wakes from a catnap to find Julia missing, and none of the passengers or crew remembers seeing the girl.
As a search is mounted, the flight crew is faced with increasingly distressing information. Julia is not on the passenger manifest, and the captain (Sean Bean) begins to doubt that she was ever aboard. That leaves Foster to plead with the plane's air marshal, Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), for help.
The captain and Carson treat Kyle kindly, but her sanity looks less certain as the moments pass. Eventually, even she must question her sanity.
highlight below for spoilers
The setup for "Flightplan" is outstanding, and director Robert Schwentke proves good at priming viewers for suspense. With clues ranging from foreboding music to lingering glimpses of suspicious figures and objects, the audience is told to expect something awful.
Schwentke may have gone overboard, but it's difficult to make a competent judgment because — like most regular moviegoers — I knew something terrible would happen before setting foot in the theater. Darn those trailers.
It matters little that we know Julia will go missing because the heart and soul of the film is Kyle's struggle. Is she mad? Is she the victim of a cruel conspiracy? Is there any worse place to struggle with these questions than in a tube flying 35,000 feet above Earth?
Kyle is a character at war with herself, and it is a plum role for Foster. Because the character requires wildly swinging emotions, Foster is able to show both range and her ability to make us forget she's a movie star.
If every element of the film were as terrific as her performance, "Flightplan" would be one of the year's best.
Alas, Foster and her supporting cast wind up as the high points in a picture that nosedives in its third act. Like Foster's last American film — the disappointing "Panic Room" — "Flightplan" segues from its excellent setup to a familiar finish that weakens what came before.
In part that's because Schwentke spends so much time preparing viewers for a shock that it doesn't satisfy when it comes.
What's more, the "big twist" arrives too early, leaving a lot of loose ends to tie before the credits roll. That translates to time for viewers to diagnose the plotting, which begins to unravel under scrutiny.
And it's too bad because Foster really is good.
Copyright 2005 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc.