"Flightplan", Jodie Foster's newest film, is a promising, taut thriller that ends with a whimper. Directed by Robert Schwentke, the film works well for a long time and then falls victim to many of the problems that plague thrillers.
Beginning promisingly, we meet the grieving Kyle (Foster) who is mourning her husband's death. She has conversations with her dead husband, in the empty Berlin subway, or the empty snow swept streets. Her loss is significant and it isn't any easier that it happened in a foreign country, that she has a young daughter, or that there seems to be some question as to whether her husband slipped off the snowy roof or committed suicide. The film quickly establishes that Kyle and her husband have been in Berlin for a long time; six-year old Julia doesn't even know what type of food they have in America, so the trip home is a bit disorienting.
Both of these factors; her grief and the disorienting trip home, help establish Kyle's vulnerability. At one point, a therapist (Greta Scacchi) on board is asked to speak to Kyle and she is easily swayed by the therapist's suggestions. All the people who are constantly telling her that Julia was never on the plane, or worse, begins to have an effect on her and she begins to question the fact herself. This is all highly effective and works extremely well.
The plane itself is a unique and interesting setting for a thriller. Two stories, with the capability of carrying almost five hundred people at 30,000, the plane is immense, with many hiding places. Of course, it helps that Kyle is an engineer who worked on part of the plane. She knows the ins and outs, the compartments, how to get into the holds, and more. This works both for and against her. She can tell when the flight crew isn't being thorough, but she also becomes more of a threat to the safety of the plane. Which is why Carson is asked to detain her when no one can find her daughter and she becomes a bit violent.
The set and the camera work add to the feeling of claustrophobia throughout. Not only do we get a sense of Kyle's frustration, in this relatively tiny, enclosed space, but these two elements help to give us the feeling these same passengers are experiencing. Yes, the plane is huge, the largest ever built, but it is still basically a tin can holding 450 people.
When Kyle realizes that the search is not going to continue, she takes matters into her own hands. Foster's portrayal of this desperate woman is very good. Throughout, Kyle remains passionate and smart, two qualities not often found in a female protagonist. If a heroine is smart, she is usually cold and calculating, because she has to figure things out. Naturally, as a mother, Kyle is distraught over the disappearance of her daughter. Even more distraught now that she is alone. The blend of emotions seems natural and all credit for this should go to Foster.
Many people may watch the trailers for "Flight Plan" and say something like "Oh, so she made "Panic Flight"". Well, yes and no. Certainly, some comparisons can be drawn between the two, they are both thrillers, but "Flight Plan" is a more psychological thriller were "Panic Room" is a more action packed thriller. There is a large difference in tone and theme. For much of "Flightplan", Foster's Kyle doesn't know who, or even, if she is trying to identify a villain.
During the first part of "Flight", the director and writers throw a lot of red herrings at us. Is the Captain (Bean) involved? How about the flight attendants Stephanie and Fiona (Beahan and Christensen)? Fiona is a new flight attendant, maybe she is behind the plan? What about those two men who are sitting at the front of the cabin and appear to be Middle Eastern? What about Kyle herself? Is she crazy? Does she imagine that her daughter is with her?
Things start to unravel a bit when Kyle finally realizes she is sure that Julia was on the plane. This moment is not as conclusive as necessary to suddenly make the audience go `aha' and start rooting for Kyle. Until, and even after, this point, doubt is successfully cast on whether Kyle's daughter is a figment of her imagination or real.
When the final reveal is made it seems a bit lacking. For all of the effort made to make everyone seem to be the villain, the actual identity of the villain is disappointing and there doesn't seem to be enough motivation for their actions. Why does this person want all of this to happen? It doesn't seem to have enough gravitas to make the film that memorable.
The final few scenes are so overly dramatic that they seem to be from a different movie all together, or perhaps a television soap opera. I half imagined Susan Lucci's Erica Kane character in place of Foster's Kyle as she walks through... I will not reveal that much. Let's just say that the final few scenes are slow, poorly written and anticlimactic. In a thriller, you want the audience huffing and puffing, on the edge of their seat until the very final frame of film. Anytime wasted should not be at the end. This is your last chance to leave an impression with the audience. If the ending is slow, the audience may feel the same way.
"Flightplan" is a suspenseful, well-made film for the most part. But the film also suffers from the same problems a lot of thrillers have. Because Foster makes so few films, handpicking every project, you would expect that she would choose a thriller that was so tightly plotted a drop of water couldn't get through. In fact, the film has a number of holes in the plot, some large enough for the large jumbo jet to fly through on its way to New York via Berlin.
Catch a bargain matinee or rent the DVD.