Jodie Foster demonstrates once again that which she is best at: a resourceful single mother able to take action and doing so. Unfortunately, a script with a social agenda nearly undermines all the film had going for it, especially the last scene.
Kyle (Jodie Foster) has just lost her husband and, with her nine-year old daughter, is transporting the body from Berlin to New York. After awaking from an exhausted sleep three hours into the transatlantic flight, Kyle’s daughter is missing and no one seems to have noticed her. She and her daughter were the first on the plane, but the toll of her husband’s death, changing jobs, and moving all in the same week has Kyle questioning her sanity. With the help of a skeptical pilot (Sean Bean) and an undercover US Air Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard), a search of the plane turns up nothing. Is Kyle losing her mind, or is something more sinister really going on under the nose of the plane?
The premise of Flightplan seems foolproof: a single mother searching for a her cub on a flight where no one believes her. With the will and the ability to act, Foster’s character also happens to be an engineer who knows the nooks and crannies of the aircraft, seemingly able to disappear into any overhead compartment and emerge from the suitcase of her choice in the baggage areas. There are more than a few similarities to Air Force One, sans the presidential entourage and with a slightly more believable and frightening scenario.
Then comes the politically correct underpinnings. With a frantic mother claiming her daughter is missing and trying to figure out why, a scene early on in the film indicated that Kyle and her daughter might have been being watched. Of course, there are two similar-looking men on board, both of which appear Arabic. Faster than you can say 9/11, the accusations fly as fast as the tempers. By itself, the scene works, but the constant revisiting of the subject grows weary quickly, including a final scene after the ending of the film which beats the horse dead with nine-inch nails and a sledge hammer. To make matters worse, the film never resolves what Kyle actually saw in the window or why.
Aside from this misstep that could only have been a red herring offered up to stretch the running time, the rest of the film goes off without a hitch and does something rare: actually delivers what the trailers promise. It’s a good mystery, plenty of possibilities, and an interesting resolution. Of course, the plane where all of this takes place is fictional, so anyone who thinks they can get around a plane as easily as Foster does is in for a rude awakening. Both Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean fully contribute their considerable talents to keeping everyone guessing, both appearing unable to decide if Kyle is telling the truth or only believes she is.
Flightplan is both a thriller and female-empowerment film, so anyone can enjoy it. The story isn’t as earth-shattering as studios would like to compete in a summer blockbuster season (c’mon, isn’t this just Panic Room on a plane? Okay, not really, but still..!), but September is the perfect time to release it before the award-worthy art films and holiday blockbusters come calling. But seriously, enough with the “Arab/terrorist” bit; if you’re too cowardly to actually come out and do it for the script, stop jerking us around pretending that we don’t know you won’t.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)