In this claustrophobic thriller, anxious widow Jodie Foster awakes aboard a huge passenger jet to find that either her mind or her little girl is missing.
Grieving widow Kyle Pratt, a propulsion engineer whose husband has just died tragically during their trip to Germany, is a prime candidate for a nervous breakdown. She’s headed back to the States—his coffin in tow—aboard a multilevel jumbo jet that she helped design. Her somber 6-year-old daughter, Julia, provides a much-needed distraction. But after napping aboard the enormous plane, Kyle awakens to find Julia missing.
Desperate to retrieve her little girl, she goes from worried to frantic to dangerously disruptive. The flight crew’s patience wears thin, especially because no other passengers recall ever seeing Julia, and the manifest shows no evidence that the girl was ever onboard. Has Kyle lost her daughter ... or her mind? Is evil afoot or has recent trauma caused her psyche to play tricks on her? Whatever the case, it becomes obvious to this bereaved woman that finding answers at 37,000 feet is entirely up to her, and will require desperate action.
Kyle’s maternal instinct causes her to search tirelessly for her missing child. She is so convinced that Julia is real and in trouble that she endures public scorn and potential arrest to find her. At times, passengers and airline employees are compassionate and helpful, both to Kyle and to one another. Captain Rich tries to be patient and sympathetic toward Kyle, yet remains professionally committed to the safety of everyone on his flight.
There are implied shenanigans between a male and female flight attendant who steal away to a secluded compartment.
[Spoiler Warning] Scuffles break out among passengers. Convinced that an Arab man is involved in her daughter’s disappearance, Kyle lunges at him, knocking him and a flight attendant to the floor. A blow sends Kyle sailing into an armrest, leaving her unconscious. She smashes the windshield of a car in the hold and strikes a man on the head with a fire extinguisher. A woman gets punched in the face. There’s gunfire, and a character perishes in an explosion.
Crude or Profane Language
A dozen profanities include several s-words and abuses of God’s name (“g--d--n,” “Jesus,” “Christ”).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Kyle admits to being on the prescription drug Klonopin for anxiety and indicates that it’s commonplace for people to take sleeping pills when flying.
Other Negative Elements
Snide, disrespectful comments devalue children or show contempt for airline clientele. (A veteran flight attendant tells a rookie, “It’s OK to hate the passengers.”) Noble intentions notwithstanding, a desperate Kyle generates widespread panic in the cabin simply to create a diversion.
“This story was an opportunity for me to make a puzzle movie full of twists and turns that is also extremely emotional,” says director Robert Schwentke, a German indie-filmmaker turning in his Hollywood debut. “I liked the idea of a movie that largely unfolds in a single contained environment. We decided against cutting to the control tower or to any characters on the ground. Everything stays within the claustrophobic space of the plane, trapping the audience along with the characters, leaving them both struggling to solve the mystery.”
I have to admit, his Hitchcockian thriller played me like a Stradivarius.
From takeoff I chose not to follow Flightplan on its most obvious trajectory. I went into it looking for a duplicitous twist. Little clues seemed to confirm that my backdoor sleuthing was leading in the right direction. Then, when chilling revelations were revealed, it was just as I had calculated. Ha! Gotcha! I’d predicted it exactly. But my smug satisfaction didn’t last. I looked at my watch and realized only 50 minutes had passed. There was too much of the film left for this to be the last word. “Ha! Gotcha!” Schwentke laughed back, though not disrespectfully. He and his team actually anticipated how we might craftily deconstruct their plot engine, realizing that we’ve been on similar flights before.
Add emotion to the mix and the result is more than satisfying. Explains executive producer Robert DiNozzi, “The thought of your child disappearing, and then being thrust into a situation where no one believes you, no one can help you and you have no idea who to trust, or if you can even trust your own sanity, has a strong emotional pull.” The filmmakers are brilliant at walking that tightrope. At least one of them has had practice: DiNozzi’s producing partner here is Brian Grazer, who won an Oscar for his reality-bending drama A Beautiful Mind.
I won’t give away the is-she-or-isn’t-she-losing-it conceit. And I’ll resist the temptation to expose a rather gaping hole in the plot’s foundation. (The screenwriters labored to cover their tracks, but there’s a huge head-scratcher in hindsight.) The fact is, Flightplan is a wild, escapist ride that challenges all sorts of assumptions and gives us the most tenaciously maternal character since Lt. Ripley protected Newt from slithery, slimy Aliens. This film benefits from shrewd casting, taut direction by Schwentke and another fine performance by Jodi Foster. If not for dicey language as unappealing as airline food, this would be a great popcorn flick for mature teens and adults.