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Flightplan (2005)


Here’s a film that’s guaranteed not to be playing as your in-flight movie any time soon.

The concept is a simple as they come: Distraught Kyle (Jodie Foster) loses her daughter on a jumbo jet. Where the hell could she have gone?

The idea is simple, but journeyman director Robert Schwentke does at least throw in a few good spins for us. Kyle is headed from Berlin to New York because her husband has mysteriously died. Kyle also happens to be an aircraft engineer, and the jet she’s flying home on – a double-decker monster that seats over 400 people – is one she helped design (a fact that will be of critical importance later). (It’s hard to describe much more of this film without giving away some of its surprises, so if you’re intent on seeing it, best to skip ahead two paragraphs.)

While Kyle is napping midway through the flight – and with hubby’s coffin in the cargo hold below – daughter Julia vanishes. Kyle starts to look for her. No one’s seen her, not the flight attendants, not the neighboring passengers, nobody. In fact, no one remembers her getting on the plane at all, and when she finally gets the captain (Sean Bean) out of the flight deck, she can’t even produce Julia’s boarding pass. Convinced against all probability that Julia has been kidnapped, Kyle becomes increasingly panic-stricken as she demands repeated searches of the plane, accuses an Arab of planning to hijack the jet, and generally going insane until she has to be restrained by a kindly air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard), who gives her his begrudging sympathy.

Given that we’ve seen Kyle hallucinate up to three times in the first five minutes of the film, all signs seem to point to this being an elaborate psychosis, and for the first hour of the film, there’s no evidence to the contrary. In fact, the clincher comes when the good captain gets news from Berlin that Kyle’s husband isn’t the only one who’s dead: So is the daughter.

There’s honestly nothing in the first two-thirds of the film to indicate that we’re dealing with anything other than a crazy, crazy, crazy woman here – but let’s not forget this is Hollywood, and a monster twist finally flies at us out of nowhere.

Critics and viewers will be quick to peg this as another Panic Room, and the similarities are uncannily accurate (most notably in the choice of lead actress). But for all its manipulative histrionics, Panic Room made sense, and Flightplan does not. None at all, really. To believe its fundamental setup — that no one on a 400-passenger transcontinental flight and no one at the airport ever saw the girl get on the plane – requires a Herculean suspension of disbelief. Ditto buying that no one would think to call, say, Kyle’s parents to ask them if she’s bringing her (living) daughter with her on her trip. Besides, anyone who’s traveled with a child knows that unobtrusiveness is not a strong point.

And still, Schwentke proves that really great production values can almost make you forget about failings in the script department. Flightplan‘s ‘E474’ is a hell of an impressive set, with secret compartments and trap doors and hatches leading to scary computer rooms and ominous crawlspaces. Never mind that whoever designed such a plane would have been fired after proving how easy it is for passengers to access any part of it unhindered, it sure does look good on film.

The DVD includes a commentary track and two making-of featurettes.

Aka Flight Plan.

First class really sucks!