Flightplan pushes the willing suspension of disbelief to its furthest levels. The film works as an action thriller, but is so absurd; it lost me completely. Jodie Foster stars as grieving widow/aircraft engineer Kyle Pratt. Her husband dies after falling off their apartment roof in Berlin. A week later, Kyle and her distraught daughter must fly his body to New York for the funeral. The airplane they take is a state-of-the-art behemoth designed by Kyle, thus giving her intricate knowledge of its many passageways and hidden compartments. During the flight, Kyle falls asleep and awakens to find her daughter missing. She becomes frantic. The crew, led by Air Marshall Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), searches the plane to no avail. They begin to have doubts about Kyle’s sanity. Her daughter is not on the passenger manifest and no one remembers seeing her with a child. Kyle is convinced that her daughter has been kidnapped. She engages in a reckless search that puts her at odds with the other passengers and crew.
The story is fairly intricate and has a number of twists. The crux of it is whether Kyle is imagining her daughter or not. I never reveal spoilers, but I will say that the film goes in a completely different direction. It turns into a lot of explosions and chase scenes without ever addressing some key issues brought up in the beginning of the film. At this point, the setting could have been a space station because none of these events could ever happen on an airplane. Granted, it is a movie. But you can’t toss away all semblance of reality if you’ve spent half the film establishing it.
The film skates a thin, politically correct line regarding certain ethnicities and the way they’re treated since 9-11. I suppose you couldn’t have an airplane thriller in today’s world without bringing it up, but it’s handled quite poorly here. There are some Arab men on the flight that are immediately singled out when the situation goes haywire. They’re obviously not the bad guys because the studio would be inundated with bad press if they were. These scenes drag on way too long. It could have worked if they were written better, but they’re not and it doesn’t.
The primal fear of losing one’s child is adequately expressed and should resonate with audiences. You really do empathize with Kyle’s plight. The filmmakers should have stuck with that theme. Big studio films usually follow the “ten pages and a bang” theory. Flightplan sticks with this philosophy unnecessarily. It would have been much more effective and realistic without the action overload.
Director Robert Schwentke does an excellent job of shooting the film. The camera work is exceptional, smoothly blending the special effects into recreating the claustrophobic space of the plane. The actors are also very good. You know what you’re getting with Jodie Foster and Peter Sarsgaard, and they don’t disappoint. It’s just the ridiculous plot that ends up dragging down the film.