What would you do if everyone around you was so convinced you were crazy that you started believing it yourself? How far would you go in the face of that impending insanity to find your only child who has vanished into thin air? In today’s airline industry climate what company is going to buy a plane so extravagant it has its own rotunda lounge section? Few of the questions posed by Flightplan have easy answers and director Robert Schwentke carefully picks his battles when it comes to answering them, glossing over most of the crazier ones in hopes you’ll be too caught up in his psychological thriller to care.
When it comes to flying, most of our fears circulate around losing things: losing our luggage, losing our lunch and losing cabin pressure, to name a few. Kyle has bigger concerns. She’s just lost her husband and on the plane trip to bring his body home from Germany to America she’s lost her daughter and everyone on the flight things she’s losing her mind.
No one remembers the little six year-old ever getting on the plane, her name doesn’t appear on the flight manifest, and the fact that Kyle is on anti-depressants isn’t helping her case. Everyone from the passengers, to the flight crew, right up to the air marshal and captain thinks she’s delusional, but Kyle refuses to give up, convinced that any of them could be behind what she believes was her daughter’s in-flight abduction.
Schwentke, a surprisingly adept director given his extremely short résumé, has carved out an enigmatic thriller that’s more mind gaming than heart stopping. With each new twist of the plot he unloads question after question onto the audience while giving only the slightest of clues as to where the answer truly lies. The effect is exciting but only up to a point. At the finale of the film a couple of major questions (and several nitpicky lesser quandaries) are left with unsatisfactory answers, putting a crimp in the believability of the ending. It’s a bit disappointing for a movie that is otherwise very smart and highly engaging.
Jodie Foster leads a sharp cast, giving her usual all-out performance. Even though she helped to design the plane’s jet engines, it’s hard to believe that the character knows as much as she does about the airplane. Foster, unhindered by such trivial technical matters, keeps the focus squarely on Kyle’s withering descent into mental breakdown.
The role, originally conceived for a man, was re-envisioned and re-written specifically for Foster, thanks to a little insight from producer Brian Grazer. It’s easy to see how a male lead would have made for a very differently paced story (who needs all that talking anyway) but hell hath no fury like a woman who believes her child has been stolen. Foster sinks her teeth in and puts on a wonderfully emotion charged performance. Sean Bean and Peter Sarsgaard fill out the male end of the cast spectrum as the captain and flight air marshal respectively. They slip right in sync with the tone Schwentke sets for Foster, fitting in perfectly with Kyle’s desperate collapse.
Flightplan plays strongly to the kinds of terrors and heavy regulations that have plagued the airline industry since 9/11. Each little aspect is slickly incorporated into the story and dialogue. They’re also to blame for a lot of the poorly addressed plot questions, weaving webs too complicated for Schwentke to try and unravel. I had an easier time than others dismissing those dubious details and was able to sit back and revel in the movie’s exciting crescendo pace and appealing camera work. Life’s full of unanswered queries and desperate schemes that pan out. I suppose it’s hard to ask any more of Hollywood.
There’s no nonsense on the Flightplan DVD. The bonus features included are well crafted and short enough for anyone to enjoy but not so brief as to be a waste of time.
A collection of making-of featurettes go step by step through various aspects of the production process from writing to post-production. All told they add up to around half an hour of material and they don’t waste a single second. Hardly the first movie to tackle the airplane action/thriller, like any entry to that genre is must face the difficult question: how on earth do you keep things interesting in such a confined space? The answer: don’t make the space so confined!
There’s a special feature dedicated to exploring the design of the film’s fictional Aalto Airlines E474 aircraft. I’d be terrified to ask how much a ticket on the plane would cost. The thing is as long as a football field and sports aisles wider than my living room hallway, both of which are crucial to the film’s copious sequences that feature Kyle sprinting through the cabin. Tack on all sorts of extra luxuriously big spaces full of nooks and crannies and you’ve got yourself the kind of plane one could potentially lose a kid in. The aircraft is absurdly large but gorgeously designed. The production designer should go to work for Boeing. I could really go for a flight with the kind of leg room and windows those passengers are enjoying.
Robert Schwentke’s director commentary is dry but informative. I prefer my commentaries to have a little personality, but Schwentke seems new to the process and gets locked into telling it like it is. He has lots of interesting tidbits to share but for the most part comes across like he’s talking to a community college film class, not an average movie viewer.
One of the best aspects of the DVD is that you can watch it twice without having to pay for an additional theater ticket. While it’s not as revealing and intricate as something like The Sixth Sense, a second viewing is a nice chance to see the clever subtleties in the story and acting that you might not have consciously noticed before knowing how the film ends.