How do you lose a child on an airplane flying at 37,000 feet? Such is the dilemma posed in Flightplan, but like any good suspense thriller, it's best not to spoil things by talking about it too much. Just know there's a twist--farfetched as it is.
Still grieving for her dead husband she's taking back to the United States to bury, Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) faces every mother's worst nightmare when her 6-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), vanishes without a trace on a state-of-the-art 474 aircraft en route from Berlin to New York. Already emotionally devastated, Kyle desperately struggles to prove her sanity to the disbelieving flight crew and passengers while facing the very real possibility that she may be losing her mind. You see, all evidence indicates that her daughter was never onboard. Julia's name isn't on the manifest, and she does not have a boarding pass. In fact, there are no traces that the girl exists save for a stuffed bear Kyle carries around. While Capt. Rich (Sean Bean) or U.S. Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) want to doubt the bereaved widow, it becomes increasingly clear that Kyle is unstable and her adamancy is causing a slight panic among the plane's crew and passengers. Finding herself desperately alone, Kyle can only rely on her own wits to solve the mystery and save her daughter. If she has one, that is.
Jodie Foster can't help but lend credible intelligence to her films, but unfortunately she is sometimes just too good for the movie she's in. This is sort of the case with Flightplan. Things start off very somber and moving, as Foster heartbreakingly shows us a woman barely keeping it together. The pain of losing her husband is etched over her face, but when Kyle looks at her adorable daughter--played convincingly by the young Lawston--you can see a glimmer of hope she'll get through it. Of course, that is until Julia disappears and Kyle goes a little haywire. For any mother in the audience, this surely will strike a chord. But, as the plot twists and turns, Foster is then required to turn into something of a supermom, with super intellect and super brawn. Much like she was in her last film Panic Room, Foster's the mother bear trying to save her cub from threatening forces. The Oscar-winning actress can pull it off, natch, but the story doesn't completely hold up to the acting. Sarsgaard (Kinsey), too, has the ability to make anything he's in that much better, and sparring with Foster as the seemingly patient U.S. Air Marshal Carson is just another notch in the actor's ever-widening belt of strong supporting performances. The rest of the cast follow suit as well, most notably Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) as the beleaguered but kind captain just trying to help a woman he believes is simply crazy with grief. It's a change of pace for him since he usually plays the villain. Also good are Erika Christensen (Traffic), as a caring flight attendant, and newcomer Kate Beahan, as her co-worker who could care less. It's a thankless job but somebody's got to do it.
For a movie contained entirely in the claustrophobic environment of a jumbo jet, you better make damn sure the aircraft is esthetically pleasing. Flightplan plane's a real stunner. Of course, the Aalto Air's E-474 jumbo jet--with its plush first-class accommodations (including a lounge), spacious coach cabin, spiral staircases and, most especially, an immaculately clean and shiny interior--doesn't really exist, but you hope maybe the aerodynamic engineers out there will take notice and start building them. German indie director Robert Schwentke (Tatoo) is very adept at creating the palpable tension within the main cabin, as Kyle runs around frantically searching and stirring up paranoia among the other passengers. Flightplan also plays upon the fearfulness and distrust in air travel these days, as did the recent taut thriller Red-Eye. But what we are really waiting for is the twist. Is Kyle really going off the deep end, á la The Forgotten? Or is there some kind of conspiracy going on? Alas, when the mystery is solved, it's sort of a letdown, only because the final whopper is just a wee bit contrived. Regardless, you'll still enjoy the ride up to the final moments.
As an action thriller, Flightplan might not necessary execute the cleverest of landings, but with Jodie Foster onboard, you know it'll at least have an excellent takeoff.