You are on a plane half way from Germany to America taking the corpse of your husband home, your daughter is kidnapped and nobody believes she was ever on board. What do you do? That is conundrum facing Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) in Flightplan – a simple premise designed to wrack up the tension levels based on who is telling the truth. This flashy thriller could have worked, were it not for the unforgivably pointed dialogue with too many dead ends and red herrings. The plot gets so tied up in knots trying to weave a complex tale that the only way out is cutting all ties with plausibility.
Three years ago, in Foster’s last major film role, she starred as a single parent trying to protect her daughter from thieves in Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002). It is surprising, then, that she returns to the big screen with such a similar role, swapping the claustrophobic safe room for the inner isolation of being the only person believing her daughter exists in Flightplan. Rather than a bunch of burglars attempting to lure her out of hiding in the former, here Air Marshall Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), flight captain Rich (Sean Bean), Arab passengers Obaid (Michael Irby) and Ahmed (Assaf Cohen) and practically all the flight attendants are trying to tempt the possible madness out of Foster’s character.
an intriguing and unnerving first two-thirds of the film
It is in setting out this group of doubters that the film deliberately tries to make an intricate web of confusion for Pratt. Each person appears to be helping search for Pratt’s daughter or attempting to keep themselves to themselves, but they are also presented as possible villains of the piece. Unsurprisingly the Arabs spark a few arguments that resonate post-9/11, while the others make the most of whatever dodgy looks or exhalations of breath they get to appear sympathetic/responsible for Pratt’s distressing situation in equal measure. Add Pratt talking to visions of her dead husband and a talk with an on-board psychiatrist and you will be wondering how the story will pan out. While this is fine for an intriguing and unnerving first two-thirds of the film, it quickly becomes apparent that a sudden jump in logic will be needed to rectify the hanging strands of a story.
When it comes, it is no surprise to find a twist laden with holes so big you could fly a plane through them. If you consider the flight Pratt is on just happens to be on a plane she designed and therefore knows its exact layout, you can probably make a good guess as to what she does for the last third of the film. It all climaxes with a chase and an explosion just so you know it is the end.
the plane is such a vast labyrinth of cabins, decks, bars and storage containers that most of the claustrophobic tension it attempts to create is lost to begin with
The undoing of Flightplan is in not making the most of the claustrophobic nature of an aeroplane situation. Just as the tension of Red Eye (Wes Craven, 2005) was lost the moment the action moved off the confined space of the aeroplane, in Flightplan the plane is such a vast labyrinth of cabins, decks, bars and storage containers that most of the claustrophobic tension it attempts to create is lost to begin with. Panic Room, on the other hand, was an effective thriller because the situation was simple and did not try to pull any unnecessarily complex narrative tricks. It is a shame Foster did not give a few tips to director Robert Schwentke.
If Flightplan was a business presentation it would start strongly, get confused and then rush to the end so fast that the audience would be so busy trying to listen that nobody would ask any questions of its suspect methodology. It clearly has an eye on business class, but is more likely to find itself in with the cargo.