Flightplan review by Mike Long

As I was watching the recent Golden Globes telecast, I began to wonder why there isn't an awards show for movies which fall somewhere between the Golden Globes and the People's Choice Awards. I feel that there needs to be recognition for the well-made, crowd-pleasing films which aren't absolute garbage. Of the genres which could be recognized on this award show would be thrillers. These films often contain sharp direction and very detailed writing...two aspects which simply don't happen by accident. When a satisfying thriller features an Oscar-winning actor, this heightens the sense that these films should be recognized. The newly released Flightplan is such a film.

Jodie Foster stars in Flightplan as Kyle Pratt, a grieving widow who has just lost her husband (John Benjamin Hickey) in an accident. Because of this, she will be leaving Berlin and taking her daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), and her husband's body back to the United States. A propulsion engineer, Kyle should be exited that they will be flying on the new E-474 plane -- a huge jumbo-jet which Kyle had helped design -- but she is crippled by her grief.

Once the plane is in the air, Kyle and Julia decide to take a nap. When Kyle awakens, she finds that Julia is missing. She alerts the crew, flight attendants Stephanie (Kate Beahan) & Fiona (Erika Christensen) and Captain Rich (Sean Bean), and her dilemma rouses the attention of air marshal, Carson (Peter Sarsgaard). The crew sympathizes with Kyle at first, but then evidence begins to mount to suggest that Kyle boarded the plane alone and that Julia isn't aboard the aircraft. The crew and the passengers begin to turn on Kyle, but she knows that she isn't crazy and, being familiar with the layout of the plane, begins an intense search to find her daughter and the truth. Is Julia truly on the plane or is this just a side-effect of Kyle's bereavement?

Thrillers which take place upon airplanes have been around for many, many years, but for audiences of my generation, the touchstone film of this genre is Passenger 57. And while that movie does contain some awesome dialogue ("Didn't your momma tell you? Always bet on black."), the scripting is very loose and the movie is full of crazy plotholes. Because of that, it's easy to admire any plane-bound thriller which feels tightly written, and Flightplan meets that goal. The script by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray takes a simple opening and then morphs that idea into a Jacob's Ladder-like story in which the sanity of the main character comes into question and we the audience becomes suspicious of everything that they've seen. Flightplan makes the very wise decision of keeping the audience abreast of Kyle, but never ahead of her. We only know what she knows. So, when the big plot twist is revealed, and the truth of the situation begins to unravel, the effect is quite jarring.

The fact that Kyle has knowledge of the plane may seem contrived, but this really helps the movie. If the character had suddenly began searching the many areas of the huge plane, we wouldn't have bought it. Considering the fact that the main characters in thrillers are usually at the mercy of their situation, it's nice to see someone who can take charge of a situation and go on the offensive. The movie does have some plotholes, but the main part of the story remains intact. I did have some issues with how neatly things get wrapped up at the end.

Director Robert Schwentke has done a nice job of displaying the sheer size of the plane while maintaining a sense of claustrophobia in the enclosed space. And again, he helps to maintain the script's process of slowly giving the audience information about what's happening. And while the movie takes it time in introducing us to the plane, Kyle's situation, and the search of the plane, Schwentke never lets the movie slow down and at 98 minutes, the movie is a very nice length and never feels dragged out. Schwentke gets a great deal of support from the cast. As usual, Foster is excellent, drawing on her ability to display genuine emotion and sheer ferocity. Sarsgaard plays well opposite Foster as his style of being both compassionate and suspicious mirrors her dichotomous nature. Sean Bean offers a nice balance as the Captain who's thrown in the middle of this bizarre situation.

Flightplan is a solid thriller, which offers a nice genre-bending story and some great acting. The drawback to the film is that it resembles other recent hits. The basic premise sounds very similar to the Julianne Moore hit The Forgotten. And Flightplan is hitting DVD just weeks after the home video release of Red Eye. Having seen both within the space of a week, I have to say that I enjoyed Red Eye more (basically due to it's lean-and-mean nature), but Flightplan is still a satisfying trip.

Flightplan takes off on DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two formats, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fantastic, as it's very sharp and clear. The picture shows basically no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors on the transfer are great, as Schwentke has chosen to stick with the cold, metallic look of the plane, filling the movie with blues and greys. The blacks look fine and the image is stable. I noticed some evidence of edge enhancement, but it won't be distracting to most audiences. The DVD features both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track as well as a DTS track. The DTS kicks major ass as it had my walls shaking throughout the film. The plane noises fill the surround sound channels, while the turbulence keeps the subwoofer busy. The sound design in the film is great and the use of the surround sound mix really gives the story weight. The dialogue and sound effects are fine as well. The Dolby track is very good too, but the DTS track is has a bit more power.

The Flightplan contains several extra features. We start with an audio commentary from director Robert Schwentke, who speaks as length throughout the film. Schwentke discusses the usual topics, cast, location, shooting, while paying particular attention to the details of the script and how the writers worked to make the story very tight. Schwentke wanders off subject at times, but the talk is informative. "The In-Flight Movie: The Making of Flightplan" is a five-part featurette which runs a total of 38 minutes. The five sub-sections here examine the film's story, the director, the cast, post production, and visual effects. This is a very in-depth featurette, as it contains a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. "Cabin Pressure: Designing the Aalto E-474" (10 minutes) features production designer Alec Hammond explaining how the plane set was designed and built. This segment offers time lapse photography of the plane being constructed.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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