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Flight Plan (10/10)

By Tony Medley

“Red Eye” was a gripping thriller, and a fitting prelude to “Flight Plan,” which is even better. Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) is flying from Berlin to America to take her husband’s coffin back for burial. He had fallen off a rooftop to his death. Flying along with her is her six year old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston). Kyle goes to sleep and when she awakens, Julia is nowhere to be seen. Where is she? Nobody on the plane admits to ever having seen her. Kyle is frantic. Where’s Julia?

That’s the film. Kyle acts as any distraught mother would and does everything she can to find Julia, involving the Captain Rich (Sean Bean), the crew, the Air Marshal, Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), and other passengers. The success of this film depends on whether or not Foster can be a harried, unbelieved mother throughout and she carries it off in spades. Sarsgaard, who gave the performance of the year, for my money, in “Shattered Glass” (2003), and should have received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, is equally good as the sympathetic Air Marshall who is trying to understand and support Kyle as she searches frantically for her daughter. Carson has to determine whether Kyle really did have a daughter who is missing, or if she’s crazy. He gives an outstanding performance as a perplexed, but understanding official.

Similarly, Captain Rich is placed in an equally untenable situation. On the one hand he has the possibility that a child is missing on his plane, requiring him to not only try to find her, but to deal with her upset mother. On the other hand he has the responsibility for the safety of all the other passengers and the equanimity of the flight. Bean expertly captures the captain’s dilemma.

Marlene Lawston, who plays the missing daughter, looks so much like Jodie Foster I was wondering if she was related. It’s a remarkable casting achievement and the young actress lives up to the challenge. It is even more admirable when it’s considered that every scene in which she appears, she shares the stage with superstar Foster.

The premise is made believable because Kyle is an aeronautical engineer and knows the construction of the plane by heart, which helps her in her search. The original script by Bryan Dowling had a male protagonist, but Producer Brian Grazer envisioned this as a vehicle for Jodie Foster. When she signed on, Grazer brought in screenwriter Billy Ray, who revised the story for a female protagonist (the name of the protagonist, Kyle, remained unchanged from male to female).

The plane is a fictional E-474 Jumbo Jet. It has nooks and crannies that Kyle knows, but that you won’t find in any plane extant. It reminded me of the dirigible in “The Hindenburg” (1975), which had inner workings accessible to George C. Scott and the bad guys that probably didn’t exist in the real thing. The 474 is crammed full of these places. On top of that, it’s incredibly luxurious.

Coming in at a compact 93 minutes, the producers got German indie filmmaker Robert Schwentke to direct and he structured the film so that it plunges almost immediately into the suspense and maintains it throughout. This is a tense, entertaining film.

September 22, 2005