With Flightplan coming so soon after the release of Red Eye, my fear of flying has increased tenfold. I’m now even afraid of movies about flying. Red Eye gave me the creeps as an evil passenger terrorized Rachel McAdams during an entire flight. Flightplan, now available on DVD, scared me almost as much. And watching Jodie Foster’s portrayal of a frantic, recently widowed woman searching for her daughter inside a huge plane -- when the passengers and crew believe the little girl did not come on board with her mother -- wore me to a frazzle as well.
One of my friends pointed out to me that no one does “stressed out” better than Foster and cited Panic Room as an example. I think she’s right. The reason Foster seems so good at this involves how quickly she can go from looking relaxed to showing extreme panic. Her face can be stoic one moment, and angry or horrified the next. Bringing tremendous energy to her performances, she usually carries me right along with her. It’s easy for me to empathize with the characters she plays -- and Flightplan’s Kyle Pratt is no exception.
Reeling from the loss of her husband, Kyle -- along with her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) -- is taking his body back to the United States from Berlin. When Julia disappears on the plane, Kyle becomes a tiger mother on a rampage. She’s so distraught and dangerous to other passengers that the captain (a spiffy Sean Bean), who has no record of Julia being on the plane, orders an air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard, minus his charming southern accent from The Skeleton Key ) to guard her closely.
“What really moved me about Flightplan was the idea of a woman who has lost her child and suddenly is forced to question her sanity because there’s so much grief inside her that she has to wonder if she’s going insane,” Foster explains. “Meanwhile, she’s in this strange sort of international world of an airplane where people are naturally suspicious of one another, so the situation has tremendous tension and pressure to it.”
And what an airplane it is! This fictional Aalto Air’s E-474 jumbo jet practically co-stars with Foster, especially when she engages in a ferocious search for the missing little girl. As a propulsion engineer, Foster’s character supposedly designed some elements of the high-tech, multi-level aircraft, so she knows it has many places where a child could hide or be held captive. In reality, director Robert Schwentke (The Family Jewels), production designer Alexander Hammond (The Cat in the Hat) and director of photography Florian Ballhaus (The Secret Lives of Dentists) are responsible for the wonderful look of this gargantuan plane built to hold over 700 passengers. Fictional it may be, but the Aalto E-474 emerges on screen as very real indeed.
Like most thrillers, Flightplan can be criticized for plot problems, especially its inappropriate ending. But that’s true even for some of Alfred Hitchcock’s great films. I’m still not sure about the why and how of everything in North by Northwest, yet I consider it an excellent and enjoyable movie. What I expect from a thriller is that it keep me guessing while scaring the socks off me -- and Flightplan passes this test with flying colors.
The splendid DVD bonus items include: “In-Flight Movie: The Making of Flightplan” with behind-the-scenes information about the director, casting the film, the post-production process and visual effects; a “Cabin Pressure” featurette on designing the movie’s huge airplane; and audio commentary with director Schwentke. After watching these impressive bonus features, I’m amazed at how much effort went into making sure that Flightplan would be a first-class thriller. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to see Jodie Foster working with the cast and crew. As her director observed, “She’s smart, funny and fearless.”
(Released by Touchstone Home Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for violence and some intense plot material. Bonus materials not rated.)
This review is dedicated to Linda Jones, one of Jodie Foster’s biggest fans.