Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
I want to be Jodie Foster when I grow up. No one kicks more ass as a single mother than Foster, with her steely, intelligent blue eyes, muscled body, constricted throat muscles, square jaw and uncanny determination. In Flightplan, she reconstitutes the role she played in 2002's Panic Room: a mother whose kid's in trouble, racing against the clock and bad guys to find a way out of peril.
Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an American jet propulsion engineer working in Berlin to design the engines for the E-474, the largest jetliner in the world. When her husband David dies suddenly and mysteriously, having fallen from a roof, Kyle and her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) must board the E-474 to accompany David's casket to Long Island for burial.
They are the first passengers to board the mammoth airplane and soon are surrounded by a smorgasbord of intercontinental passengers, including an American family with the world's two most obnoxious children (a faint attempt at humor in this largely humorless thriller), and a sleepy-looking guy named Carson (a very subdued Peter Sarsgaard).
After takeoff, Kyle and Julia stretch out in some empty seats at the back of the plane. When Kyle awakens, Julia's gone, and so begins a wild and frantic search through the giant jet, including all its many passageways, holds and storage areas. There's no need to reveal any more of the plot except to say that it flies for about an hour, then does a belly flop in its last minutes.
Director Robert Schwentke and writers Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray do an excellent job in the film's early scenes to instill a sense of doubt about Kyle's mental stability. She's grieving, after all, and we've witnessed a fantasy scene in which she walks across Berlin holding hands with David, whom we know is already deceased. Hmmm. Was there actually a little girl with Kyle when she boarded the plane, or did she fantasize that, too? There's no boarding pass or backpack to be found for Julia, and her name does not appear on the flight manifest. No wonder the flight attendants are so condescending and surly when asked to help her find her daughter.
But Kyle is resolute, and because she is played so resolutely by Foster, the viewer's doubts don't linger for long. This woman's sanity is as solidly built as the jumbo jet she helped to create.
Fancy camera angles, a glossy interior set (the E-474 has a cocktail lounge to die for) and a decent supporting cast do plenty to keep Flightplan aloft, but Foster is the only thing that really soars. Sean Bean, who frequently plays heavies, is charming as the troubled flight's concerned captain. Sarsgaard, on the other hand, looks like he overdosed on Valium before boarding the plane, and he plays a complex role with a troublesome deficit of energy.
The notion of hide-and-seek within a jetliner is intriguing and buys the film some decent moments, if only because many of us have been trapped in these gigantic soaring cans, wondering about all the human drama onboard. With Flightplan, we get to see what happens when a passenger loses it and starts running up and down the aisles mid-flight. If it were anyone but Jodie Foster, we might be tempted to laugh. But because it's Jodie Foster, mother of steel, this ain't no laughing matter.
-- Kathryn Eastburn