Dir. Robert Schwentke, US, 2005, 98 mins
Jodie Foster, Sean Bean, Peter Sarsgaard, Kate Beahan, Marlene Lawston
Jodie Foster reprises the role of 'frantic mother' that she played in Panic Room (2002) in Robert Schwentke's Flightplan. Foster plays Kyle, a recently widowed mother living and working in Germany as an aircraft designer. Upon the strange death of her husband she decides to leave her home in Berlin and fly to the US with her six-year-old daughter in order to bury his body. Her flight home takes place on a brand spanking new uber plane that she helped design. After falling asleep for a few hours, she wakens to discover her daughter, Julia, has vanished. An initial search of the plane proves fruitless. When none of the other passengers or crew claims to have seen her and her name isn't on the passenger list, they begin to question Kyle's sanity. Kyle remains adamant that her daughter is hidden somewhere on the huge aircraft and refuses to give up her search.
Upon hearing the premise of this film one immediately wonders how the filmmakers could possibly create an atmosphere of tension for a lost child from within the limited confines of an aeroplane. This problem is remedied by the invention of a craft of such huge construction that it resembles an apartment block rather than a machine designed for flight. The two storied plane, with it's various bars and lounge areas, coupled with the vast underbelly of its inner workings and luggage hold, creates a space sufficiently large enough to lose a child in. The plane in Flightplan is no doubt modelled on the enormous new planes being built by airbus and offers us a sneaky glimpse into the future of air travel.
For the first hour of Flightplan there is a feeling that we are heading into Sixth Sense (1999) territory, which is all well and good. It's the switch into Die Hard (1988) mode for the last half hour that brings disappointment. The atmospheric tone of the film, created by the use of a sinister piano score and a steel grey and blue colour scheme, elicits a the cold, futuristic feeling that one gets from a sci-fi film. The darkness of Berlin in winter set against the crisp white snow is decidedly gothic and creates an expectation of spookiness from the films very beginning. The plane itself is all blues and greys as well and constantly dark and shadowy, almost making the machine itself something to be wary of. It actually left me feeling reminded of H.A.L in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Julia (Lawston) disappears twenty minutes into the film before we barely encounter the other minor characters on the aircraft (both the passengers and the crew). The narrative is fast paced for the first hour, which works well but leaves you wondering how long this hide-and-seek element can be stretched out. The panic stricken Foster running up and down the aisles looking for daughter does become rather tedious after a while as you wait for the inevitable twist.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about Flightplan is its position as the first Hollywood film to tackle a 'terror in the skies' narrative post 9/11. Amongst the exclusively white passengers sit a group of four Muslims who are constantly granted prominence by the camera from the start of the film. They are made out to be possible 'bad guys' through the constant scowls on the faces of the actors whose motivation from the director seems to have been "look at as shifty and terroristy as you can". After Kyle accuses them of kidnapping her daughter with a view to hijacking the plane, anti-Muslim feelings and fears are stirred up amongst the other passengers resulting in ensuing violence. When the Muslims are found to be innocent passengers we are no doubt meant to question our own fears and prejudices and learn some kind of moral lesson. It's a cheap Hollywood trick devoid of any subtlety or cleverness and holds no sincerity whatsoever. Filmgoers with an ounce of savvy will see it coming a mile off.
Flightplan starts off well but seems to generically morph midway into a bad action movie. Sean Bean is, as always, great as the aeroplane's captain but his role is muted and he is woefully underused a la Lord of the Rings (2001). Foster does the panicky mom role well, but it peaked too early in the narrative and failed to recover.
The attention to detail and the style of the colours used works well, and the feeling of panic and worry on the part of Kyle is well executed, but essentially the elaborate and far fetched final act will leave you feeling a bit lost yourself.