(Robert Schwentke, USA, 2005)


This film has a perfect title. Almost entirely set aboard a huge aircraft, it wastes no time in orienting the viewer as to the various zones and levels in which the action will unfold. Even the final credits present us with a mobile computer graphic travelling through this space.

German director Robert Schwentke, making his impressive Hollywood debut, conjures the aircraft as an emblem of modern industrial design. Everything is sleek and serial – as in an early, striking shot showing the rows of identical seats and television screens.

It is easy to tell who the heroine of this story is. From the moment Kyle (Jodie Foster) appears, momentarily losing sight of her little daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), in the airport, Schwentke’s camera frequently "picks her out of the crowd", in two ways: by filming her directly from above, and tracing a circle around her.

Kyle, understandably, feels alienated from her fellow passengers. When Julia cannot be found on board during the flight, no one in Kyle’s vicinity ever remembers having seen her. And once the flight captain Rich (Sean Bean) and his crew learn that the increasingly desperate and obstreperous Kyle is coping with the recent death of her husband, they quickly assume she is hallucinating her daughter’s presence.

Although Flightplan, cleverly scripted by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, 2003) and Peter Dowling, flirts for a while with this note of psychological intrigue, it is principally an action film. Kyle knows her way around the parts of an aircraft that are off-limits to most passengers – except for smooth-talking Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), an airline security agent masquerading as just another traveller – and she spends most of the movie devising ingenious ways to enter and search them.

Like virtually every contemporary thriller, the publicity for Flightplan compares it to Hitchcock. It is in fact much closer to Polanski‘s claustrophobic dramas, Spielberg’s disquieting sci-fi visions and especially De Palma’s unerringly systematic action set-pieces that make the most of modern architectural features.

Foster has carved a niche as the screen’s Ms Intense. As in Contact (1997) and Panic Room (2002), she remains a grim figure of determination from the moment the plot kicks in. Like Sigourney Weaver in the Alien series, she shows the ferocity that can accompany the maternal instinct.

As a performer, she does not play for sympathy; she lets the story create the conditions of our (sometimes ambivalent) identification with her, while she conveys the steely obsession of the distraught Kyle. Foster embodies intelligence, focus, ethical rightness – even at the risk of a certain humourlessness.

Flightplan dances around a host of political issues that have been in the air since September 11 – especially the fear of terrorism. In an intriguing plot move, Kyle begins wildly accusing several Arab passengers of kidnapping her child. When Carson scolds her for this undiplomatic behaviour, she hisses: "I don’t give a shit about being politically incorrect!"

Where the film goes with this potentially odious turn of events repays close attention – especially in the closing scenes.

MORE Foster: Anna and the King, Little Man Tate, Nell, Sommersby

© Adrian Martin November 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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