Movie Review: Flightplan (2005)

Flightplan (2005) was nothing very special. I really like Jodie Foster and Peter Saarsgard, but they couldn't save this movie from two huge problems: first, the plot is totally impossible to accept, and second, there's a jarring transition when "everything is finally revealed".

SPOILERS to follow.

The opening sequence sets a wonderfully moody tone. It's disoriented and dark, presumably just like Kyle Pratt's mind at the time. Her husband has just died, apparently having jumped off the roof of their Berlin home. She's preparing to take her daughter Julia and her husband's body back to New York.

The trailers set you up for watching the kid especially carefully during the opening sequences - you know that at some point people are going to question whether the kid ever got on the plane, so you watch it carefully. People notice cute little kids, so it's kind of wierd that this one disappears so easily. Of course, they don't show the actual moment Kyle boards the plane with here daughter Julia. This was annoying to me. The movie is careful to establish that Julia is scared, withdrawn, and so not likely to make spontaneous friends on the plane.

Despite this, Julia goes missing about 3 hours into the flight, Kyle is distraught, and the skeptical but professionally kind crew (led by the wonderful Sean Bean, who doesn't get enough good guy roles IMHO) search the ship. In addition, one of the crew phones the departure point and says Julia never got on board. In the final straw, the manifest reads that both her husband and daughter died in Berlin.

So far, this is good stuff. As the viewer, you can't be sure that you've just watched an hallucination (a la "The Sixth Sense"). So my critical watching was split into "look for clues that she's really crazy" and "look for clues as to who is setting her up and why".

The latter was pretty easy to do - the crew member who checked with departure for the manifest would obviously have to be in on it. The one who saw Kyle and Julia board could be in on it. The captain was offered as an obvious red herring. I thought that Saarsgard was an obvious choice too, since he as an air marshal surely would have seen the kid if she was really there. I dismissed that as too obvious. Silly me.

Which only left the issue of motive out of the equation. Why make Jodie Foster feel crazy? The only motive that made sense was to provide an excuse to access parts of the plane.

Turns out that it was all a complex hijacking plan involving Saarsgard and a flight-attendant (the one who called the departure gate and the one who checked a particular part of the plane for the girl - ha! I knew it!). It also turns out that Kyle's husband was murdered, and not a suicide. To top it all off Kyle was going to be framed for the hijacking, at least long enough for the real bad guys to abscond with the dough.

This plan is so hairbrained that any viewer can be forgiven for not seeing it. First of all, how did Saarsgard guarantee that the kid wasn't seen by anyone else boarding the plan and on the plane? Admittedly, perhaps that was just an added bonus that he captialized on. Ok. If so, why risk it all to have your cohort lie about the departure terminal's records? Why did they change the manifest to show 2 bodies in the hold? How did they finagle it so that only their people checked the section the kid was stashed in? Why didn't Saarsgard kill the kid rather than just sedating her (there was no outcome where the kid would have been left alive)? Why did they even need an engineer for their scheme (if anything, this was more risky since she was more able than the averadge joe to actually find the kid)? Surely the abduction of any kid would trigger a search, which would allow access to parts of the plane. How was the explosive smuggled in on the coffin? Sure, they don't X-ray 'em but they sure do sniff 'em for explosives. If he could successfully smuggle C4 onboard, why not just detonate it in the coffin?

The plot is ridiculous. It would have been a much better movie if the bad guy (no longer an air marshal) had spiked Foster's drink with a psychoactive drug at some point, and *really* made her doubt her sanity. And perhaps his motive could be to steal trade secrets off of the plane. Or steal a doodad from the hold, which only an altered, maleable Foster could get access to. Remove the bit about the husband being murdered, and just say that the bad guy saw an oppurtunity and took it. Or maybe to lure the captain out of the flight deck to slip him the secret command that had been hidden in his psyche for years.

Here's another idea - turn Saarsgard into a good guy trying to rescue a prisoner being transported in Kyle's husband's casket in an attempt to uncover an ongoing program used by the CIA to move prisoners around the world unnoticed in other people's coffins. He's been waiting for an oppurtunity, and Kylie was it. But he couldn't risk telling her the truth, so he created the kid crisis. Partly this would be useful in uncovering the (evil) CIA operatives on board willing to stop the coffin from being opened with their lives. Heck, he could still have the help. Add a few more precautions (like a private cabin for the greiving family?) and you have yourself a believable movie.

*That* story would really use the strengths of Flightplan, as well as introduce a few more juicy twists (in particular that Saarsgard would look like a good guy turned bad guy turned good guy - and then, depending on your opinion of how far the CIA should be allowed to go in the war on terror, into a bad guy again).

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