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Review: 'Flightplan' flies high

Film a good popcorn flick elevated by Foster, direction

By Paul Clinton

Jodie Foster as a desperate mother in "Flightplan."



Starring: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Erika Christensen

Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Written by: Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray

Studio: Touchstone


Jodie Foster

(CNN) -- The new suspense thriller "Flightplan," starring Jodie Foster, blatantly preys upon two of our greatest fears: losing a child amid a crowd of strangers, and the claustrophobia of being on an airplane when there's something not right.

Given Foster's presence, it's easy to tag this film as a reworking of another of her movies, "Panic Room." And there are similarities, notably a fearless mother fighting for her child's life while trapped in a confined space.

But "Flightplan" takes a different tack, and is a better film for it.

With the notable exceptions of the incomprehensible film "Nell" and the resounding dud "Contact," any movie starring Foster is worth seeing. "Flightplan" -- a heart-stopping thriller -- lives up to her standard.

Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a distraught woman accompanied by her traumatized young daughter, Julia (7-year-old Marlene Lawston in her film debut) on a flight from Berlin to New York. She's bringing home the body of her deceased husband -- who died under suspicious circumstances -- for burial back in the United States.

Shortly after take-off, both mother and daughter doze off in their seats. But when Kyle wakes up, Julia has disappeared and no one -- neither passengers nor crew -- can even confirm the young girl was ever on the flight. Kyle goes quickly from mild concern to mounting fear, and finally to full-out panic as her frantic efforts to locate her child prove fruitless.

At first, all on board, including the pilot (Sean Bean), make every effort to locate the girl. But after an extensive search everyone on the plane begins to turn against her. Kyle is out of control and may even be having a breakdown, raising questions over whether her missing daughter even exists.

Her main source of support, an air marshal named Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), also finally gives up the search and resorts to handcuffing Kyle in order to control her and protect her fellow passengers. Even that precaution doesn't stop Kyle. She turns out to be extremely familiar with the aircraft since she helped to design the jumbo jet's engines.

You can probably guess the rest -- but you won't guess how the film gets there, which is what makes "Flightplan" so entertaining.

Director Robert Schwentke uses the claustrophobic confines to great advantage, helped greatly by Florian Ballhaus' cinematography. He also builds the tension perfectly, giving the film a terrific payoff.

An air marshal played by Peter Sarsgaard offers support at first, but finally handcuffs Foster's character.

Sarsgaard is carefully building an solid body of work with well-chosen projects ("Shattered Glass," Kinsey") while delivering finely tuned performances. There are many layers to his character in this movie and he peels them back with precision.

The screenplay, by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray, originally called for a man to play the role of Kyle. But when Foster expressed interest the sex of the lead character was quickly changed, though it retained the same name.

I'll admit: I had a little problem with the plot twist that just happens to make Kyle an engineer who just happened to help design the plane's engines. How convenient. But I went along with it because the film was designed so well.

Foster, of course, is essential to our trust. She's a woman of formidable intelligence and carries more than enough authority to be believable as a jet propulsion engineer.

The two-time Oscar winner is still at the peak of her powers. With her at the controls "Flightplan" flies high as an entertaining, popcorn-munching thriller.

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