© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Kate Beahan, Michael Irby, Assaf Cohen, Erika Christensen, Marlene Lawston
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Peter A. Dowling, Billy Ray
Distributor: Bruena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and intense situations
Running Time: 93 minutes

Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.1 out of 10

* The following review includes SPOILERS *

What if 450 people are trapped in a transatlantic flight with nowhere to go and a little girl is missing? What if it stars Jodie Foster in her action-hero mode? You get a Hitchcockian film called PANIC ROOM AT 37,000 FEET -- oops, sorry. It’s actually called FLIGHTPLAN.

Kyle (Foster) is a bereaved wife whose husband recently fell to his death in Berlin. Distraught and grieve-stricken, Kyle arranges to have her husband’s casket transported back to New York for a family burial, and she’s taking her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Lawston) with her. Ever the protective mother, Kyle tells Julia that everything would be okay and the flight is safe because she helps design part of the jumbo jet on which they’d flight across the Atlantic. See, she knows everything about this airplane!

Exhausted and having taking some sleeping pills, Kyle awakes three hours into the flight to find Julia missing. She alerts the flight crew and captain about her missing daughter. Eventually the captain and his crew suspect that Kyle is deranged and has made up the story about Julia. No one on the plane has seen the little girl, and according the flight manifest, there is no record of the girl ever existed. Worse, the captain tells Kyle the bad news: the mortuary in Berlin confirms that Julia was killed with her father a week earlier. The only person who seems remotely sympathetic is air marshal Carson (Sarsgaard). Confused and anxious, Kyle starts to question her own sanity as well, until a definitive clue tells her that Julia is real and still on the plane, and someone is playing a very dangerous game…

Foster (A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) reprises her mother-in-peril role as she did in PANIC ROOM. She is an extraordinary actress, conveying both vulnerability and strength at the same time. At times she looks so beaten it’s heartbreaking, but when her triumph comes, we can’t help but cheer her on. However, after PANIC ROOM, and now this, we’re ready to see Foster in something different, perhaps a little gentler. Sarsgaard (SKELETON KEY) is solid as Carson. However, his portrayal of the characters -- the squint of an eye, a scrunch of the nose -- somehow betrays the suspense of the story, as we start to suspect something is not quite up-and-up with this guy. He’s too eager to help.

The rest of the cast have very minor roles, considering the cast of hundreds in this film. Bean (THE ISLAND) plays against type and is effective as the responsible and stern captain. Beahan (MATRIX REVOLUTIONS) is rather creepy as flight attendant Stephanie. Irby (ONCE UPON A WEDDING), Cohen (WEST BANK STORY) and Kristensen (SISTERS) serve their respective roles as would-be suspects.

FLIGHTPLAN opens with a confusing flashback that sets the tone of the rest of the film. The opening sequences tell you almost nothing, and information only starts to trickle in as the story unfolds in real time. The script by first-time writer Dowling and Ray (SUSPECT ZERO) is taut with suspense and unanswered questions almost till the end. Clearly they pay homage to Hitchcock in style and storytelling techniques. Perhaps I’m a little too smart for a thriller like this, for I correctly guessed the bad guys midway through the film. But the bad guys’ motives and schemes remain a mystery to me, and I like that. We keep asking the question: Why? At times, the plot seems convoluted, though. A lot of things, if you really stop and think about them, don’t make much sense. For example, how could there be only one air marshal on an international flight with 450 passengers, who sits in coach (and no where near the cockpit in case of a hijacking)? Why didn’t anyone see the little girl, including the ticket or gate agents? The plot is a little too clever, too perfect as if the bad guys have thought of every detail, every minor wrinkle, and every move Kyle may take. Quite impossible.

As long as we can suspend our disbelief, FLIGHTPLAN is a very entertaining, nail-biting thriller. Director Schwentke (TATOO) has crafted a tight, suspenseful, well-paced story, leaving us not too many opportunities to ask silly questions like the ones I asked above. He has a deft skill and the editing is tight as well, leaving us breathless in many sequences. The ending is somewhat cheesy, I think, even for a big Hollywood movie. But I suppose it’s necessary for a crowd pleaser. With a strong female lead and a tight plot with a soft heart (who can’t identify with a mother losing her husband and her child?), everything will work out at the box office as planned.

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