Dir:Robert Schwentke. US. 2005. 93mins.
Germandirector makes a promising US debut with Flightplan, a taut suspensethriller that gets good use out of its transatlantic airliner setting and, fora while at least, produces some real emotional resonance too.
Withthe very selective Jodie Foster starring, the Imagine/Touchstone productionshould be capable of strong box office runs in many territories around theworld - last time Foster agreed to appear in a mainstream Hollywood movie theresult was 2002 thriller Panic Room, which grossed more than $100minternationally and almost as much domestically.
BuenaVista opens Flightplan wide in the US this weekend. Facing littlemainstream competition in the post-summer lull, the film should manage at leastone week at the top of the box office chart, though it may suffer slightly fromfollowing DreamWorks' successful airborne thriller Red Eye into themarketplace.
Foster'sfilms have often performed better internationally than in the States (and hermost recent appearance was in last year's French international hit A VeryLong Engagement), so Buena Vista International should do well outside theUS. The film might get an extra boost in some territories from Schwentke'sinvolvement - the director is known in Germany for thriller Tattoo andblack comedy Eierdiebe - and the inclusion in the supporting cast ofBritish and Australian talent.
Thepsychological suspense starts building with opening scenes set in a wintryBerlin. Ex-pat American aviation engineer Kyle Pratt (Foster) has just lost herhusband and is preparing to accompany the body back to New York with her youngdaughter Julia (Lawston).
Onthe plane, Kyle's struggle to hold herself together is set against theprevailing uncertainty of post-9/11 air travel. When Julia disappears from herseat, Kyle's anxiety begins to escalate. Trying to get the flight attendants tosearch every corner of an aeroplane she helped design, she first annoys thenscares the other passengers and then attracts the attention of the flight's airmarshal (Sarsgaard). Her state worsens when the captain and crew suggest thatJulia was in fact never even on the plane.
Thescript by Peter A Dowling (his first produced screenplay) and Billy Ray(Shattered Glass) makes Kyle's grief and panic palpable and effectivelymaintains the mystery of Julia's disappearance.
Butthe film's middle act is mostlydistinguished by Schwentke's use of the setting (a fictitious next-generationjumbo jet whose interior was created for the production).
Shootingfrom odd angles with unsettling lighting effects and delving into parts of aplane rarely seen by passengers, the director turns the jet's interior into anincreasingly claustrophobic and sinister setting for Kyle's desperate search.He even manages to choreograph some bursts of kinetic action among the crampedaisles and hidden hatches.
Theplot's turning point is cleverly scripted and nicely staged, but with themystery partially solved the credibility gaps in the story begin to show andthe film's grip on its audience begins to loosen.
Inits final segment, Flightplan turns into a more conventional andsomewhat over-pumped thriller, with muscular action taking the place ofemotional pull and psychological intrigue.
Thefinale gives Foster a chance to show off her physical presence as well as heremotional acting chops. Earlier in the story she very effectively portraysKyle's blend of stoicism and fragility, giving the film a dimension that'soften missing from plot- or action-driven thrillers.
Sarsgaard(last seen in The Skeleton Key) has amore ambiguous, less believable character to work with but his presence addsextra depth to a strong supporting cast. Christensen (Traffic) plays a sympathetic flight attendant, but her characterdisappears from the story prematurely.
Thecast also includes Bean (The Lord Of TheRings) as the plane's captain, Australia's Beahan (Chopper) as another, less sympathetic attendant, and Greta Scacchiin the brief but nicely played part of a well-meaning therapist who tries tocalm Kyle down.
Charles J D Schlissel
Peter A Dowling