March 4, 2006
Flightplan (2005) came out around the same time as another on-the-plane thriller, Red Eye (2005) which boasted hot, up-and-coming actors Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy and directed by Wes Craven. Flightplan’s big draw is Jodie Foster. Both films play on a basic fear of flying, or, on an even more primal one – the fear of not being in control. On an airplane your safety resides in the hands of the pilots and in this day and age, post 9/11, the anxiety level goes up even more.
Kyle Pratt (Foster) and her six-year-old daughter Julia (Lawston) are flying back home to America. Her husband has recently died and they are taking his body back as well. Distracted by grief, Kyle nearly loses her daughter in the airport. It seems that they are flying on the brand new E-474, a massive, multi-level jet that she helped design. Once airborne, Kyle takes a nap for a few hours, wakes up and finds out that her daughter is missing. No one on board seems to remember ever seeing her. In fact, there is no record of her at all! Is Kyle going crazy or is this some kind of conspiracy?
Kyle is convinced that someone took her child and she has the captain (Bean) order a thorough search of the entire plane but Julia is no where to be found. There is certainly no shortage of suspects: the inexperienced stewardess (Christensen), the friendly air marshal (Sarsgaard) or the two Middle Eastern gentlemen. Because of 9/11 they immediately become the prime suspects and the film comes dangerously close to painting them as the obvious villains of the movie.
Jodie Foster does a fine job as a woman coming apart at the seams and keeps us guessing if she’s crazy or if there is some validity to her claims. She is also able to convincingly convey the grief that threatens to overwhelm her. Foster is ably supported by Peter Sarsgaard who turns in another solid performance as an even-tempered, soft-spoken air marshal.
The problem with Flightplan is that for almost the entire movie you don’t really feel any sympathy towards Kyle’s plight. It is certainly understandable that she be upset and frantic about losing her daughter but in the process she seems to lose any kind of rationality. She accuses two Middle Eastern men of kidnapping her daughter simply because of the way they look. She also messes with the plane’s electrical system thereby endangering and scaring all of the passengers just so she can escape from the air marshal’s supervision. At some point, we don’t really care if she’s crazy or not because she is making such unrealistic and illogical demands beyond that of a concerned mother. And then, Flightplan settles into a formulaic cat and mouse game for the last 20 minutes that we’ve seen too many times before.
There is a five-part documentary that can be viewed individually or altogether, called “The In-Flight Movie: The Making of Flightplan.” It traces the film’s origins, for example Foster’s character was originally a man but once she expressed interest it was rewritten for her in mind. Director Robert Schwentke comes across as a well-prepared guy, storyboarding every shot. The cast praise his “strong vision,” and he, in turn, praises them and their naturalistic performances. The post-production process is also examined and we see how editing and the film’s score help manipulate how we feel and perceive and given scene. Finally, the visual effects involved in creating the plane are touched upon. It was put together with a combination of a large scale model and CGI.
“Cabin Pressure: Designing Aalto E-474” takes us through how the interiors of this fictitious plane were put together. They were built, from scratch, on a huge soundstage and were fully functional which helped the actors stay in the moment.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by director Robert Schwentke. The script was written before 9/11 and involved terrorists. This was changed in favour of the mystery of the missing child and Kyle’s damaged psyche as its focus. Schwentke spends most the running time taking us through the various aspects of the movie. He comes across as very well-spoken and informative, providing many filming anecdotes in this pleasant if not unremarkable track.