2005-10-06 / Columns

“Flightplan”

Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Starring: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean

Rating: PG-13 (for mild violence, scene intensity)

Running time: 116 minutes

Best suited for: the undemanding thrill-seeker

Least suited for: the other type of thrill-seeker Acorn’s Rating Guide:

This one’s like “Panic Room” at 36,000 feet. “Flightplan” tries so hard to convince us of its clever intent that it hopes we ignore the gaping holes in plot and logic and the huge number of implausible events, all working in flawless tandem like soon-to-be-falling dominoes, that make up the filmmakers’ scenario.

Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a Berlin-based aircraft designer taking her 6-year-old daughter to New York after the unexplained— accident or suicide?—death of her husband, David. Pratt is understandably overcome by grief. She converses with David’s apparent ghost after his death, so we realize she may be a little left field of reality—a blatant setup to remind us of her fragile state of mind later in the film.

During the nonstop Atlantic flight, Pratt falls asleep. When she wakens a short while later, her daughter is missing and nobody aboard the flight remembers seeing the little girl. There’s even a suggestion that the kid never came on board. Could Pratt be hallucinating?

Foster plays Pratt like a mamma bear, storming around the humongous 747, interrogating passengers and demanding results from the skeptical crew. The pilot begrudgingly agrees to search the plane, its various holds and compartments, but the little girl still can’t be found. When Pratt nears hysteria, the pilot orders the flight’s air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) to restrain her. Can she convince the man that her daughter has indeed been kidnapped and is being held captive somewhere on board? But why? But how?

“Flightplan” actually starts off well—it’s well-constructed and beautifully rendered, tinted with a chilly air of melancholy and foreboding. Had I left the theater midway, I would have been mightily impressed, and more than a bit curious. But when the facts begin to fall into place, the film begins to nosedive. The how and why of the little girl’s disappearance become too implausible to take seriously.

Should you see this film, just for fun on the way home, ask yourselves these questions: What if Pratt hadn’t fallen asleep? What if she hadn’t moved her daughter from the window seat next to her? What if her daughter had been unruly or had caused a scene on the plane? What if the flight attendants had been more attentive? What if Pratt and her daughter hadn’t been the first to board? What if they hadn’t taken that particular flight? See how many improbable elements you can find before you begin to realize “Flightplan’s” scenario as utterly unbelievable.

The writers even throw in four scowling Arabs as possible culprits—and I can already hear cries of jihad 10,000 miles away.

This is strictly a star vehicle for Foster, who occasionally reacts like a female (and not particularly pleasant) Robo-cop. She manages to slip free of custody just often and long enough to more than unsettle the nerves of the 400-plus passengers and, because she’s an aircraft engineer, she seems to know every little cubby and crevice aboard the massive plane. Before the film ends, she will have wiggled in and out of most of them. Believe it or not, even this fact plays into the story’s ever-thickening (but hardly jelling) plot stew. Even David’s death—well, that’s relevant too. But in this one, isn’t everything?

In a nutshell:Sorry, but the nonstop action thriller thrown together by a seeming maelstrom of random events just doesn’t do it for me. Subtlety has a purpose in cinema and “Flightplan” could use a heavy dose. It’s too much, too fast, with too little logical purpose or rationale.

Return to top