It’s always a bad sign in a thriller when the big reveal is greeted by hoots of derisive laughter, and that’s what happened at this movie. It’s an even worse sign when two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster is out-acted by a child who is missing or unconscious for most of the movie, but that happened, too.
Just-widowed Kyle Pratt (Foster) is flying from Berlin to New York with her 6-year-old, Julia (Marlene Lawston), taking her husband’s casket home to be buried. They are exhausted and shaken, so they find some empty rows in the back of the plane and go to sleep. When Kyle wakes up, Julia is gone. As she searches the plane, getting more and more worried, the attitude of the flight attendants shifts from helpful to wary to hostile. It seems there is no evidence that Julia ever boarded the plane. A federal air marshall travelling undercover believes Kyle is delusional, and so does the captain. Kyle starts to wonder if they could be right.
Then it all veers into a level of preposterousness that would be too silly to go into even if it didn’t contain spoilers. There are some tense moments, but unlike the other recent airplane thriller, “Red Eye,” this one never creates a sense of claustrophobic containment. Kyle, an engineer who helped to design this aircraft, the largest ever, understands the blueprints well enough to know where to look, and as she keeps exploring new places, some of which appear positively cavernous, it dissipates the tension. So do the below-par one-note performances from Foster, Sarsgaard, and Sean Bean (as the pilot). This film may be called “Flightplan,” but it never takes flight and there is nothing that rises to the dignity of a plan of any kind. Discuss. But don’t bother with the movie.
Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and violence, including shooting, explosions, and references to murder, suicide, kidnapping, and molestation. There is some strong language, though less than average for a PG-13. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong woman and the way it raises the issue of bigotry when some passengers assume that the Middle Eastern men on the airplane must be untrustworthy.
Families who see this movie should talk about how national security issues have affected the way people feel about air travel. They should also talk about the various arguments Kyle used and which ones were most persuasive.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the far-better disappearing person classics, especially The Lady Vanishes (from which this film lifts one of its key clues), Bunny Lake is Missing, and So Long at the Fair, as well as Foster’s last Mother Courage performance in Panic Room all of which have vastly more satisfying conclusions than this one.