By David DiCerto
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) -- If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today he might make a movie like "Flightplan" (Touchstone). In fact, the film's contained setting echoes Hitchcock's 1944 close-quarter classic "Lifeboat," which, as its title suggests, took place entirely in a life raft adrift on the open sea.
German director Robert Schwentke takes on a similar cinematic challenge -- succeeding for the most part -- with this smartly crafted and tautly paced psychological thriller, whose action, following in the tailwinds of Wes Craven's "Red Eye," plays out within the claustrophobic confines of a commercial airplane during a transatlantic flight from Berlin to New York.
Jodie Foster stars as Kyle Pratt, an American aeronautics engineer living in Germany who is distraught over the recent -- and suspicious -- death of her husband.
Flying aboard a luxurious jumbo jet she helped design, Kyle wakes to find that her young daughter (Marlene Lawston) has mysteriously vanished midflight without a trace.
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She frantically searches the double-decker cabin, accusing an Arab man of foul play, and rattling the other passengers, much to the consternation of the flight attendants (Erika Christensen and Kate Beahan).
Kyle is pushed to the edge when the passenger list reveals no evidence that her daughter was ever on board, forcing her to question her sanity, as does the plane's captain (Sean Bean), while an air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) is caught between wanting to believe her and doing his job.
Is she crazy? Or is there something fishy going on in the not-so-friendly skies?
Foster is excellent and her convincing maternal meltdown is one with which any mother would empathize. (The script was originally written with a male lead.)
In addition to tapping into "every parent's worst nightmare" fears of losing one's child, the movie also plays on post-9/11 air travel anxieties. (An early draft predating the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, involved terrorists but was changed for obvious reasons.)
Schwentke maintains a high suspense altitude for much of the film, though the script experiences increasing turbulence in its story logic and plausibility, leading -- as with "Red Eye" -- to a more conventional, but less ridiculous, action climax.
Apart from some minor chase-related violence (someone gets thunked pretty hard with a fire extinguisher), there's not much in the way of objectionable content.
If you can look past its more preposterous plot elements, "Flightplan" is an intelligent nail-biter that keeps you guessing. And though the final departure is a bit disappointing, for its genre, it's worth boarding.
The film contains several intense sequences, some violence including the bad guy meeting a fiery end, minimal crude language and profanity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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DiCerto is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB.