If you have read anything about the new thriller Flightplan, you might have stumbled onto the word “Hitchcockian.” Recently, studios have frequently used this word to describe thrillers such as Panic Room and Phone Booth thinking that this will immediately create credibility. However, none of these movies are truly “Hitchcockian.” The common thread is bad things happening to good people in small spaces. Flightplan, the latest “Hitchcockian” thriller (which actually borrows its plot from Hitchcock’s own The Lady Vanishes) is about as close to Alfred Hitchcock as an episode of According to Jim.
Flightplan stars Jodie Foster as grieving widow Kyle Pratt. Kyle is taking a redeye flight home on Alto Airlines (alto means “high” in Spanish, how clever) with her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) in order to bury her husband. After taking a sleeping pill-induced nap (she obviously never took Psych 101), Kyle awakens to find that her daughter is missing. Becoming incredibly agitated she begins to annoy the flight attendants (including Erika Christenson in a wasted role), the captain (Sean Bean), and Air Marshal Jake Carson (Peter Sarsgaard). The Captain soon finds out that Julia never got onto the plane in the first place. Kyle is unconvinced, and turns into a raving lunatic to find her daughter. From there, the plot takes a left turn that has more holes than Sonny Corleone.
The acting by Foster and Sarsgaard is first-rate. Foster, who works as much as President Bush in Crawford, Texas, gives an intense performance. Her character displays just the right amount of toughness and emotional scarring to make the character seem believable. Sarsgaard is electric as always in the character of the Air Marshal. While most of the actors just stand around when their characters do not speak, Sarsgaard sarcastically looks around the room, giving the impression that his character is completely incredulous at the situation he is in. It is a nuanced performance in a movie otherwise lacking nuance.
Where the movie ultimately fails is the direction and the script. Director Robert Schwentke, making his first movie that anybody has seen, proves that he is a novice. He directs the movie as if it were a horror film. At one point, the flight attendants are checking the far reaches of the plane for Julia. Schwentke uses suspenseful music that would be more appropriate for Halloween 14. The film uses air sickness inducing quick panning shots and utilized a point of view shot from Kyle’s eye, which prompted me to wonder whether Jodie Foster was really playing the Terminator.
The script, by Billy Ray and Peter A. Dowling, besides being full of holes, is full of idiotic random lines. For example, while Kyle frantically runs up and down the aisles, an annoyed passenger states “it’s not like she lost her palm pilot.” At that point I think I heard crickets in the theater. The only quality part of the script is a subplot where a large male (a dead ringer for former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus) confronts a Muslim man who he believes is responsible for kidnapping Julia. Obviously this man never walked through a bright red “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds” arch. This social commentary works well in portraying a sense of timeliness.
As you can see, comparing Flightplan to Alfred Hitchcock is like comparing Raffi to Jimmy Page. Is the movie worth seeing? There is no doubt that you will be entertained for an hour and a half, just don’t expect to walk out of the theater with any epiphanies about life, liberty or airplanes.
Archived article by Michael Mix