Flightplan

September, 2005, Thriller

Directed by:Robert Schwentke

Starring:Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, and Erika Christensen

In 1991, Jodie Foster became Hollywood’s poster-child “damsel in distress” when she crept down into that cellar at the climax of Silence of the Lambs. Equal parts agonized vulnerability and steely feminist determination, Foster, (who at age 14 played the prepubescent slut opposite Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver) has emerged as the most curious leading lady in mainstream American movies. Despite appearances in more conventional roles, (Anna and the King, Maverick) the actress seems drawn to variations on her character in Lambs. Film such as Contact and Panic Room place her in roles combining intelligence, extraordinary drive and an asexuality that keeps her characters at some distance from those she encounters in her films. In this movie, she’s exhausted any remaining interest audiences might have in that persona; it’s time for this talented actress to move on.

Here, she plays Kyle, a freshly widowed aeronautical engineer with a six-year old daughter who boards a New York-bound plane in Berlin that also carries her deceased husband’ casket. Awakening from a troubled nap, Kyle discovers that her little girl has gone missing. A search doesn’t turn anything up; the flight’s passenger list doesn’t indicate that Kyle was accompanied by anyone and a federal air marshal, (Peter Sarsgaard) takes Kyle into custody. The audience knows the child exists, but no one on the plane seems to, other than her mom. How to explain such puzzling circumstances?

With a plot so preposterous it leaks like a sieve, that’s how; in resolving this one, veteran screenwriter Billy Ray concocts a patently silly conspiracy then marries it to a series of random events so ridiculous the climax seems forever in arriving despite the movie’s relatively short, 90 minute running time. What a gulf exists between the improbable and the impossible; Hitchcock was a master of the former and the makers of Flightplan should have consulted his playbook before trying the credulity of the audience so sorely here.

This film is what Hollywood publicists call a “star vehicle”, the kind of movie in which the lead’s screen image is presumed in advance and her presence in nearly every shot underscores that dominance. But what worked for Foster over a decade ago doesn’t cut it here; her reaction to the mysterious 

death of her husband and her daughter’s subsequent withdrawal doesn’t produce the kind of sympathy the screenplay struggles so mightily to induce. Foster’s Kyle doesn’t trigger any emotional identification with viewers in the audience because they are all too familiar with she’s done before; the result isn’t an interesting examination of a woman under stress, but simply one of watching how this emotionally distant character will escape the dangerous situation in which she finds herself. Foster’s performance unravels along with the script’s credibility. 

As she nears her 43rd birthday, Ms. Foster should stop trying to portray herself as a female Tom Cruise and start using her obvious talents in more worthy roles. Such a move could threaten her star status, but if she continues in this vein, she’ll soon surrender her reputation as a serious actress.     

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