As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
Having consistently stumbled across trailers for Flightplan for 17 years, I’ve been repeatedly telling myself that it’s one of those films I’d get round to eventually, particularly as its central mystery is intriguing. Well, having finally managed to catch the film – which, in human terms, would now have almost reached adulthood – it turns out that the mystery of its premise is essentially its only hook.
Opening with a rushed explanation of the vague circumstances of the death of David Pratt, husband of aircraft engineer Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster), Flightplan establishes that Kyle and her six-year-old daughter Julia will fly his body from Berlin to the United States. However, shortly after boarding the plane, Kyle wakes from a nap to find her daughter missing, and no-one on board remembering the girl ever having boarded the plane.
In terms of setting up an intriguing central mystery, Flightplan does a pretty solid job. It promises a mindbending, claustrophobic thriller, with Foster frantically searching for her daughter even while being presented with more and more evidence that she was never there to begin with. However, despite this promise, there’s a specific moment which can be identified as the exact second that Flightplan threw its potential out of the window – the moment Kyle realizes that Julia was in fact onboard, after all.
In one or two fleeting seconds, Flightplan discards all logic and any credibility it had as a psychological thriller, and begins its descent into sheer stupidity. Its mystery remains intact for a few more scenes before being unceremoniously ripped away, replacing all of Flightplan‘s most intriguing aspects with a plot that feels suspiciously recycled from better movies.
Its climactic scene, clearly intended to be a triumphant moment for Kyle, are so cheesy and poorly conceptualized that it genuinely seems as though Flightplan‘s writers and director simply became bored and slapped any old conclusion onto the film. Detonating a bomb inside the grounded plane and killing the film’s antagonist (also vaporizing most of the best evidence available for clearing her name), Kyle struts from the wreckage completely unharmed with Julia in her arms. This scene is set to music that would have been more at place in a Spielberg fantasy film (an uncharacteristically poor choice from Flightplan‘s composer, the late James Horner).
The following few minutes attempt to tie up one or two loose threads using poorly written dialogue, although this actually seemingly creates more issues with the film. For starters, the entire plot hinges upon not a single member of the crew or any of the plane’s passengers noticing Julia boarding or being kidnapped mid-flight. There’s also the matter of the gate never having checked Julia onto the flight, and the distinct lack of backstory for the film’s villainous conspirators.
In fact, upon inspection, Flightplan is riddled with plot holes that the film half-heartedly attempts to explain away using a blatant lack of any logic, expecting its audience to believe that in the world of post-9/11 air travel, the crew of an airport and commercial aircraft could all be so drastically inept as to not have noticed a small child boarding the plane with her mother (who also checked her husband’s corpse onto the flight – she was probably pretty memorable).
Flightplan does feature some genuine tension, even after its plot has gone into freefall, so its not a total loss. It’s an engaging film, if not a particularly enjoyable one – the mystery of the first half is played off abysmally, but it’s still interesting enough to keep you watching. Sadly, it leaves you with little but disappointment as the credits roll, effectively epitomizing the concept of unfulfilled potential.
Summary: Flightplan‘s first half seems promising, but its second half betrays almost every one of its exciting aspects, opting for a nonsensical conclusion instead of an intelligent one. It skews as disappointingly nonsensical, wasting the potential of its tense and disturbing first act for a “twist” as ludicrous as it is dull.
Highlights: Jodie Foster’s hysterics and Peter Sarsgaard’s villainous snarl only become more entertaining as the film goes on, even as the plot falls apart around them.