Aeroplanes. I’m not a fan. It’s that whole little metal tube vs. gravity thing; I’ve never really got my head around it. For those like me, who break out in a sweat whenever the seatbelt light flicks on, Hollywood has supplied a steady stream of films to play on our anxieties. Alive, Fearless and the much-lampooned Airport flicks; Flightplan is the latest addition to this dubious canon.
Fortunately Flightplan is not another plane-in-peril drama. In her first major screen role since Panic Room, bar the brief French interlude of A Very Long Engagement, Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a woman returning to New York with her young daughter after the recent death of her husband.
Leaving behind a Berlin steeped in snow and Euro-gloom, they board a plane bound for the US. After allowing herself to dose off for a while, Kyle wakes to find her daughter not in her seat. She checks the aisles, the toilets, the bar (this is a big plane) but there is no trace of her. Growing understandably alarmed she asks the flight attendants for help. An announcement goes out but it seems that none of the other passengers remember even seeing the little girl. Further checking reveals that there is no record of her daughter having boarded the flight. Was she ever on the plane or did she die in Berlin along with Kyle’s husband?
As the distraught mother who may well be losing her mind, Foster gives the expected exemplary performance: grief, panic and pain swimming under the surface, her increasing desperation palpable. Sean Bean is equally good as the pilot torn between his sympathies with Kyle and his greater responsibility for the safety of his other 400 passengers. There is also strong support from Peter Sarsgaard as an armed flight marshal.
Unfortunately though the premise is engaging the film lacks the necessary ambiguity. There is never any real doubt that there is something sinister going on; at no point do you ever really believe that everything will turn out to be down to Kyle’s grief-fuelled delusion. The film isn’t brave enough for that. The twist, when it comes, is a weak one and the final third of the film is peppered with implausibilities. And, frankly, tossing in a couple of Arab characters to provide a narrative red herring is both lazy and tasteless.
The nature of air travel and air security has changed unignorably over the last few years, but Flightplan dodges the issue completely. But though the film is disappointing, Foster is reliably great in it; she’s a subtle and cerebral actress and she gives a measure of intelligence to a screenplay that doesn’t really deserve it.
You do have to question though why she chose to make her return to the big screen in a role virtually identical to the one she played in Panic Room. Mothers in extreme situations. Struggling to stay calm as the impossible unfolds around them. Now that she’s the wrong side of forty, and still doesn’t fit well into the role of cosy homemaker, is this the only box Hollywood feels able to put her into?