Aeronautics expert Kyle Pratt (Foster) boards a plane with her seven year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) to fly the body of her recently deceased husband from Berlin to the US. Following a small snooze mid-flight, Pratt awakes to find her daughter i
It is perhaps surprising that Hollywood has taken four years since 9/11 to make aircraft interiors the suspense locale du jour. Sandwiched between Red Eye and the upcoming Snakes On A Plane, Flightplan adds Hitchcockian enigma — think a mid-air The Lady Vanishes — to the already heightened fears surrounding aircraft travel and delivers an entertaining diversion that fails to stand up to closer scrutiny.
For an hour or so, this is all suspenseful fun. The premise — how can a mother lose a daughter in such a confined space? — is crackerjack and the screenplay has the confidence to wring it out in a patient build, finding conflict amid the claustrophobia. There are obvious red herrings (a run-in with an Arab passenger raises the spectre of terrorism) and diversions (Greta Scacchi pops up as a therapist who counsels Kyle), while the tension between the growing anger of the passengers and the staff’s attempts to keep Kyle calm is tangibly evoked. Schwentke’s camera glides between business class, cattle class and the aircraft’s bowels, dynamising the space while filling the cabin with dread. Starting the movie a sallow presence, Foster grows in stature, her escalating anxiety and anger shot through with trademark steely determination.
Around Foster, the supporting cast put in solid spadework; Peter Sarsgaard makes for a genial, sympathetic air marshall, Sean Bean is professional and stoic as the pilot, Kate Beahan perhaps overplays her card as a worldweary air stewardess, while Erika Christensen is wasted as a newbie trolley-dolly.
It’s only when the story has to unravel itself and solve its mystery that the turbulence kicks in. The set-up is so meticulously constructed and airtight that the writing paints itself into a corner and the final third neither has the big suckerpunch or storytelling grace to deliver a satisfying resolution. Still, part of the fun here is trying to anticipate how it will all work out, then pulling it to pieces in the pub afterwards. Flightplan may have more holes than a slab of Emmental but it doesn’t really matter. The compelling first half and Foster’s gravitas are enough to make the journey worthwhile.
Thank you for flying Flightplan. Plot holes and disappointing last acts are located here, here and here. Strap yourself in for an enthralling, enjoyable if ultimately far-fetched thriller.