By beth mcarthur
Publish Date: 29-Sep-2005
Starring Jodie Foster, Sean Bean, Peter Sarsgaard. Rated PG.
Don't watch CNN before going to the movies. The channel's coverage of real-life melodrama sets the excitement bar too high. While watching Flightplan, all I could think was how magnificent the film would have been had the Jet Blue pilot been in the cockpit: a decisive captain would be in charge, we'd be spared Hollywood's mandatory fiery explosions, and then we'd toddle off, shaken, yet with a rock-solid belief in our fellow man's competence and benevolence. As it was, I emerged from Jodie Foster's movie about a mom who loses her six-year-old daughter on a flight from Germany to New York with my faith in humanity almost shattered.
Flightplan does a brilliant take on a parent's overwhelming protective instinct. Unfortunately, its downfall is that it grossly underestimates another human impulse: compassion. The result? Flightplan's passengers and cabin crew are complete assholes. Writers Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray and director Robert Schwentke do this to isolate Foster's character, Kyle, thereby mounting suspense while soliciting our empathy. But I've got 10,000 air miles that say flight attendants would no more dismiss Kyle's crisis as "silly" than the most priggish yuppie would sneer, as here: "I don't see what all the fuss is about. It's not like she lost a Palm Pilot." Say what? The moment is an unnecessary dig at the perceived attitude of the child-free. But playing fast and loose with implausible logic and negative stereotypes is the way Flightplan generates multiple red herrings whereby we suspect most characters of being child snatchers. So flight attendants are bimbos, women are hysterical or calculating, people without kids are selfish pricks, and white men are racists. Indeed, our anguished protagonist's sole ally is a Caucasian redneck who, gripped with post–9/11 paranoia, only sides with her when he suspects Arab passengers took her kid.
That said, Foster as anguished mama bear is thrilling to behold. The role of Kyle was reportedly written for a man, and Foster's inextinguishable ferocity when trying to convince Peter Sarsgaard's stoned-looking air marshal to help her find her kid shows us, as in Panic Room, that it's not Dad's prerogative to be the mighty protector.
The conundrum is whether or not the kid ever existed. Harder to swallow than an in-flight breakfast burrito is the notion that no one saw the child on board. Possibly, as Sean Bean's ambivalent captain surmises in Flightplan, Mom is delusional. This recalls The Simpsons episode wherein Homer, unable to convince anyone he has a friend called Ray, gets put in a mental ward. Fortunately, Kyle avoids that fate. As we cringe at the heartless souls who, unbelievably, refuse to comfort our protagonist, however, some may wish to volunteer Flightplan's filmmakers for a little of Dr. Hibbert's electroshock therapy.