Jodie Foster has made a career of playing strong women. From pics as diverse as The Accused and Anna and the King, cinema’s Ms Feisty always stands up for herself. Whatever the threat, you can always rely on Foster’s women to fight back - kicking fruitcake backside in Silence of the Lambs and defeating intruders in Panic Room. But it takes a good actress to add that vulnerability which cranks up the tension. So, airborne mystery thriller Flightplan is right up Foster’s street. And if you enjoy twisty stories, it should be up yours too.
Foster’s a plane engineer, grieving the death of her husband in Berlin. Emotionally fractured and possibly losing her grip on reality, she’s heading back to the States with daughter Julia. But when the six year old goes missing on the plane, no one recalls her ever being on board. Is the disappearance a fact or the figment of mum’s fevered imagination? Mommie wants to search the plane, but Captain Sean Bean and sky marshal Peter Sarsgaard fear that Foster’s flipped. Something’s got to give.
Flightplan is a curious but satisfying hybrid - an idiosyncratic, independent-style psychological thriller with multiplex sensibilities. From the off, German director Robert Schwentke grabs us with arresting visuals that convincingly evoke Foster’s unsettled state of mind. The sparse script gives an eerie foreboding that all’s not well with mummy. And Foster makes us sure of it – her eyes telling us all we need to know. In a film that is low on actual incident, Foster’s face is where most of it takes place. It’s only afterwards you notice there wasn’t much action, or violence, swearing, sex or romance. It obviously begs comparison with Panic Room, Foster’s similar mother-daughter thriller. But apart from sharing Foster’s martial mum and shed-loads of swoopy camera movements, the two movies stand alone. Panic Room’s more intense, but Flightplan weaves its own spell, laudably relying on its premise, solid playing and ingenious camerawork.
In truth, it doesn’t quite deliver as much as it promises. And the intrusive and signalling music is tad heavier than it needs to be. But harking back to the days of Hitchcockian suspense, with some wobbly post-9/11 touches thrown in, Flightplan is refreshingly different enough to be a superior entertainment. While the solution isn’t perhaps as startling as you might hope from the mysterious beginning, it keeps you guessing and shouldn’t leave you asking for your money back. Besides, Schwentke’s camerawork is top-notch all the way and worth the ticket price – whether gliding through the nooks and crannies of the plane, or layering-on the wintry images of Foster’s discontent. Schwentke’s penchant for creepy-scary thrillers (Tattoo, a German spin on Se7en) helps create a credible sense of tension and mystery. And it’s this, with Foster’s ambiguous performance, that adds bite to what is ultimately a mainstream movie.
Flightplan is confident, stylish and entertaining. Not unlike Ms Foster herself.