Movie review: Jodie Foster upgrades "Flightplan" to first class
Bruce Newman, 08:35 AM in Bruce Newman, Movies & DVDs
There are some movies that get better and better the more you think about them, and then there's "Flightplan." Rarely has a movie benefited more from thinking about it less. Here is a picture whose pleasures rise quickly to 37,000 feet -- and remain there until the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign -- thanks mostly to the nimble performance of its star, Jodie Foster.
Like the "state-of-the-art airliner" on which the thriller is set, "Flightplan" works best at its high-concept cruising altitude. It's only as the plane and the picture's premise are depressurized that some of the air goes out of the movie.
Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a grieving widow who is returning home with her husband's body when her 6-year-old daughter vanishes during the flight from Berlin to New York. The idea of mislaying an entire person on an airplane might sound a little far-fetched, but that's only because you've never seen the E-474 jumbo jet, a flying condo complex, with surly flight attendants spaced at regular intervals throughout its massive superstructure.
highlight below for spoilers
In its early going, the picture sometimes stretches for a psychological moodiness that feels a little obviously Hitchcockian. At one point, Foster's character sees her dead husband and takes his hand, though it soon becomes apparent that this is a fantasy sequence. The night before she and her daughter are to leave Berlin, she sees some swarthy-looking men standing at a window across the courtyard from her apartment who appear to be watching her.
To allay her daughter's fear of going out into the street where her father must have landed when he fell -- or jumped -- from the roof, Foster's fiercely protective mother hides the little girl under her coat. She continues to keep the child under her protective wing as they board the plane, which will prove to be an essential ingredient to the unfolding plot. This is but the first of many happy accidents about which you shouldn't think too much.
Another is that the plane's engines were designed by Pratt (of the Pratt & Whitney Pratts? or some lesser Pratt? we don't know), which means she is intimately acquainted with every nook and cranny of the airplane she is about to turn into her own private aerobic fitness center.
When Pratt awakens from a three-hour nap and can't find her daughter, she immediately goes wild-eyed with fear and starts barking at the flight attendants that she thinks something terrible may have happened to her little girl. Her increasingly ferocious demands for a thorough search of all the plane's holds meets with the sort of imperious resistance from the crew usually reserved for coach passengers trying to storm the first-class lavatories. One particularly officious flight attendant (Kate Beahan) -- her supercilium throbbing with disdain -- says, "Ma'am, we don't have any record of your daughter ever being on board." When they start calling you "ma'am," you can be sure you're not getting that second packet of peanuts, and the plane's not going to be searched from top to bottom.
However, they do grant her a review of the passenger manifest, which reveals that no Julia Pratt was ever officially aboard the plane. "Somebody has her!" Pratt proffers prophetically. Then she goes sprinting up the aisle and begins banging on the door of the cockpit, screaming for the captain to let her in. Director Robert Schwentke records this mad dash in super slo-mo, thus removing any doubt that Foster's character has totally flipped out.
The captain (Sean Bean) even dispatches a shrink to speak soothingly to her, and convince her that she's a loony bird whose daughter never actually boarded the flight. By then, all the other passengers have turned against her for having the seat belt sign illuminated after they drank lots of coffee, and she doesn't regain any support among her fellow passengers until she confronts and accuses the only Arabs on the plane. (This scene -- which is supposed to make us feel ashamed of the way we lapse into racial profiling under stress -- instead drew a ripple of applause from the audience at the San Jose screening I attended.)
But before you can think too much about the implications of any of that, she is racing up the aisle again, climbing through hidden hatches in restroom ceilings, and visiting her husband down in the cargo hold. Anyone familiar with Foster's recent film work might be tempted to think of this as "Panic Room in the Sky," because just as her character did in the 2002 picture "Panic Room," she uses her specialized knowledge of the battlefield to protect her child.
If you just sit back and enjoy the ride, "Flightplan" can be emotionally satisfying and lots of fun. Just don't think about it.
Rated PG-13 (violence and some intense plot material)
Cast Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Erika Christensen
Director Robert Schwentke
Writers Peter A. Dowling, Billy Ray
Running time 1 hour, 33 minutes