Directed by Robert Schwentke; Starring Jodie Foster, Sean Bean; 90 minutes; rated PG-13. **** out of *****
By: Eric Lam
My worst nightmare when I travel used to be arriving at a destination and finding out that my luggage had ended up in Timbuktu. While I'm lucky enough to never have that happen to me, Jodie Foster has a much more considerable problem to deal with when she loses her daughter at 30,000 feet. What's worse, nobody on the plane thinks her daughter even exists.
Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a recently widowed propulsion engineer who must bring her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) and her dead husband back to New York aboard a futuristic, (albeit fictional) jet plane that she helped to design. When her daughter disappears, a distraught Pratt harasses the stewardesses enough to arouse the interest of kindly Captain Rich (Lord of the Rings' Sean Bean) and Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), possibly the worst air marshal in the history of air marshaling (but with good reason).
highlight below for spoilers
What follows is a fast paced cat and mouse search through the bowels of the double-decker plane while suspicion falls on the entire principal cast, including one of the stewardesses (Erika Christensen, last seen as a drug-addict in Traffic) and eventually even Kyle herself.
Foster plays the distraught, slightly crazy propulsion engineer/mom with such honesty and raw emotion that I had a hard time believing she was really making it all up, even as the evidence mounted. Jodie Foster carries this movie, but she has an excellent supporting cast.
Carson, the wisecracking air marshal who has to keep her under control has comparatively little trouble believing that she is insane. Even Captain Rich, who tries very hard to believe her, eventually observes that there is nothing that makes her so special that someone will kidnap her daughter on a plane with no possibility of escape. Inevitably, Of course, there is something that makes her that special.
Any film taking place on a passenger jet post 9/11 will have some baggage attached to it, and not the kind carrying your Hawaiian shirts. The very real mistrust and prejudice held by passengers is manifested in a lot of shouting and even a fistfight when Foster's character accuses two Arabs of kidnapping her daughter. While the reason for her accusation has nothing to do with their race, the subtext is apparent, and intentional on the part of the filmmakers.
The movie wisely stays away from pronouncing judgment on the moral issue, merely choosing to present what is a plain truth in air travel and what exists in the public psyche today.
While the majority of the film takes place within the confines of a dual level jetliner (in fact both decks are actually the same set, redressed) the cinematography is beautiful. The jumbo jet doesn't exist in real life, but the CGI version looks convincing enough roaring across the screen with all the power of a real plane.
There are some conventions that find their way into every thriller, but director Robert Schwentke guides the talented cast through a smart, tight screenplay written by Peter Dowling and Billy Ray with enough twists and turns that the audience doesn't feel like they've seen it all before. When the Big Reveal does finally happen, I was genuinely caught by surprise.
When it comes right down to it, this film flies on the strength of the acting and not the special effects gimmicks, however few there may be. All the loose ends are tied, and the audience is left thinking why Air Canada can't build planes like that.
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