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Non-Review Review: Flightplan

Truth be told, I think part of the reason I have a soft spot for Flightplan is simply because Jodie Foster doesn’t make enough films. She’s an actress who devotes so little time to major releases of late that each of her movies is a gem of itself. That’s not to argue that she shouldn’t spend time with her family or pursue other interests, it’s just an acknowledgement that she’s really one of the best actresses working today and – sadly – works all too infrequently. She’s an actress who can add a high level of quality to what might otherwise be a mundane production, and here she manages to turn a rather disappointing thriller into an enjoyable hour-and-a-half of entertainment.

Aisle watch Jodie Foster in anything...

To be honest, Flightplan seems doomed from the outset. The core of the movie has Foster’s character, Kyle, claiming that her daughter has gone missing on a flight. However, there is no record of the child ever boarding the plane, and various airline staff and passengers start to growing increasingly impatient with her single-minded pursuit of a child that might not even exist. That’s an interesting hook, and one that provides for some nice tension, a solid leading performance and even some decent character work. There’s a lot of potential in that story arc.

However, there’s also a fundamental flaw. In any story where a character is fanatically claiming something that is verifiably false, there are literally only two outcomes: either the raving loon is right (and there’s likely a big conspiracy to cover it up), or she’s wrong (and is most likely completely crazy). I won’t spoil the film by outlining the ending, but I will remark that either answer would turn a film into something that it didn’t appear to be from the outset – and then turns it into something a tad more generic. That’s the fundamental problem with the film: despite an intriguing setup, it falls apart at the end when it’s forced to actually show its hand. It then becomes a completely different, and far less interesting. It doesn’t help that the resolution is completely riddled with holes. But I won’t go into it in too much depth, because you might not have seen the film.

Just to Cap it all off...

It’s a shame about the ending, because I genuinely enjoyed the movie’s set-up. Playing on the audience’s expectations, knowing that many viewers are aware the nature of the child’s existence will be called into question, the film teases us with early shots that make us ask the same question. Sometimes the child is conspicuously absent from shots, sometimes people seem to acknowledge her. Sometimes people look at our lead character kinda strange (as if she’s talking to herself), while the daughter seems to interact with her environment. It’s deliciously wishy-washy, and one which seems aware that most viewers will go in knowing that Jodie Foster will end up looking for a child nobody else believes exists.

Also ingenious is the movie’s casting. I find the major flaw with most thrillers is that they tend to typecast their villains. It’s entirely possible to guess the killer or the villain based solely on the list of stars in the film. Flightplan plays with this sort of expectation. It knows that if it gives us a particularly sinister actor, the viewer will suspect that this is a conspiracy, while populating the cast with actors known for playing good guys will lead viewers to guess that this is actually a drama about loss pretending to be a thriller. The film solves this dilemma by giving its two largest supporting roles to two actors known for playing morally ambiguous or sleazy characters.

Not quite a smashing success...

Sean Bean isn’t exactly the first person I’d chose to cast as a pilot, which is why he works so well in the role. It’s genuinely surreal to hear him talk with a very posh Timothy-Dalton-style British accent, as opposed to his usual rougher brogue. He always looks sleazy, so putting him in a position of authority is a wonderfully clever casting call. Similarly, the sleazy Peter Sarsgaard isn’t exactly the most obvious choice for the role of a gun-totting air marshall. So casting the two major supporting characters as somewhat sinister character actors throws the audience’s suspicions into doubt. It really could be a big sinister conspiracy involving the entire cast, but it could also be one huge red herring.

There are a few bumps in the road even before the film falls at the final hurdle, however. There’s a really awkward scene where our lead accuses two Arab passengers of complicity in the kidnapping of her (possibly fictitious) daughter. It really smacks of an attempt to seem politically-engaged in the wake of 9/11. “Why should I have to move?” the character protests when asked to step away for questioning. “I didn’t do anything!” Later, proven innocent, he proclaims, “Then I guess you’ll have to find some other Arabs to harass!” It’s just horrible awkward and I genuinely hate the “suspicion falls on an Arab passenger who turns out not to be a terrorist”cliché that seems to be a part of every terrorist-related movie plot. Given that flight attendants tried to organise a boycott of this film (claiming it made them look insensitive and rude), if a Middle Eastern character ever turns out to be the baddy in something like this, I’d inevitably be spoiled by the countless public protests. But that’s a minor complaint.

I don't think there has ever Bean a more sinister airplane captain...

Foster carries the film herself as the concerned mother. Much like Panic Room, she breathes life into a clever little thriller, and makes it one worth at least a watch. Unfortunately, this film falls at the final fence, unable to resolve its interesting premise in a suitably clever or engaging manner. Ah well, if only it had managed that perfect landing.

4 Responses

  1. … also known as, “Panic Plane.”

  2. I totally agree, Foster does imbue this film with a sense of weight that would not have normally been there if there was different casting. A shame about the inevitable ending, but it was entertaining nonetheless

    • Yep. That sums it up. And I was actually watching Mars Attacks! at the weekend, and thought about how much I miss Michael J. Fox being a big movie star, and how much more I appreciate a good actor’s work when there’s less of it. Would Pirates 4 be a gem if Johnny Depp worked less?

      • No nothing can forgive Pirates…nothing! A really interesting question though, does over exposure make us jaded of actors? And does sparing work make us relish even a half hearted performance….kind of an absence makes the heart grow fonder kind of thing.

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