|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 24 January 2006|
“Flightplan” rips into the viewer’s psyche gently, then – like a bloodsucking leech – refuses to let go. The movie is a return to the film noir styling that made 1940s Hollywood so good. The story has twists and turns, and seasons the main character with just enough psychological doubt that we can’t fully trust her either. The film has been compared to a Hitchcock endeavor, praise it truly deserves.
Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) is an engineer who has worked on the jet propulsion system of the world’s largest aircraft, the Aalto 474. Unfortunately, she has also just lost her husband in a tragic accident. In fact, the investigation has led officials to believe that David Pratt committed suicide. Struggling to hang onto her sanity, Kyle fights for permission to fly her husband’s casket back to the United States. Kyle has also grown overly protective of her six-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston). While on the plane, Julia goes missing and no one but Kyle can remember having seen her. The rest of the movie plays out Kyle’s search for her missing daughter and her growing suspicion that she may be having a psychological breakdown.
Chapter 1 opens with Kyle sitting on a bench and cuts swiftly back and forth between what is going on now and what happened only a few days ago. When Kyle learns about the death of her husband, sees him lying in his coffin, the realization of her loss hits the viewer like a punch. The melancholy and slightly eerie music underscores the twisting emotion Kyle is going through. The subway noises clang and bang unmercifully through the surround sound system. Kyle is crying, distraught, and her mental state keeps flipping back and forth between having her husband and dealing with his loss. The subway sounds are as sharp and unforgiving as fingernails on a blackboard. The final startling sound, the explosion of crows winging into the air and screaming, kicks the subwoofer into play.
Chapter 2 moves into the mother/daughter relationship Kyle and Julia share. Both of them are fragile, broken and barely holding together. Kyle obviously isn’t handling the loss of her husband well, and Julia is strangely quiet. While in bed, Kyle notices the open window and goes to close it. While she’s doing that, she spots a man staring at her from the apartment across the street. When she goes back, he isn’t there. In the morning, Julia doesn’t want to go on the plane. Kyle offers to hide her from every eye. The quiet tinkling of piano music flows through the surround sound system, setting mother and daughter adrift. We get a quick jolt of adrenaline when Kyle loses Julia in the airport for a moment. The airport noises and jet sounds echo through the big hallways and poignantly point out how alone Kyle and Julia are.
In Chapter 3, we begin to understand just how big the airplane is. It’s two decks in all, and so is the set. The sudden explosion of water over the plane as the maintenance crews work to wash away ice booms through the surround sound system and the subwoofer. The scene of the cargo handlers loading the casket is heartrending. The sequence showcasing the jet’s takeoff is fraught with anxiety. Most viewers will start wondering if it will ever gain sufficient ground speed to claw into the air. The subwoofer gets hammered at this point, and the other speakers echo around and around as they broadcast the various noises.
When Kyle wakes up in Chapter 4, she can’t find Julia. Slowly and inexorably, the tension in the movie ratchets up. No one, it seems, recalls seeing Julia. Immediately, we start to wonder what has happened to Julia, but the question also begs whether Julia really existed or if she was just a delusion in Kyle’s grieving mind.
Unfortunately, the review can’t go into detail past this point without giving away too much of the story and the narrative drive. Just know that from this point on, not a move is played without the accompaniment of the surround sound system making the most of every bang, clang, whisper, thump of turbulence or explosion. Those who have surround sound systems to enhance their viewing pleasure will hear a total sonic workout.
The Special Features section on the disc has got quite a lot to offer. “The In-Flight Movie: The Making of Flightplan” ponies up five different sections. “Security Checkpoint: Story of a Thriller” gives the viewer a brief overview of the movie and the permutations that the film went through before coming to the screen. “Captain’s Greeting: Meet the Director” is a short interview with Robert Schwentke that talks about what he brought to the film. Unfortunately, most of the pieces seem to be from the lips of others or while Schwentke is working, but the audio commentary really puts us into the director’s mindset. “Passenger Manifest: Casting the Film” talks about the decisions involved in hiring the various performers for the film and provides some insight into those people, and it also shows a lot of the green screen work that developed the scenes. The interview with young Lawston is a gem. “Connecting Flights: Post Production” provides a peek into what went on with the visual effects, especially the sounds and the music that are used to spike the adrenaline of the audience. “Emergency Landing: Visual Effects” shows all the set pieces and models that were used to film the special effects. There’s a lot done with how the CG plane was created as well.
“Cabin Pressure: Designing The Aalto 474” is a great piece. A lot of care went into the feature. The piece shows how the plane and the sets were built from the ground up, mixing in bits from the film to onsite examinations of what had to be done to achieve the effects. Weeks went into designing the look of the make-believe plane. Color is as much a part of the movie as sound and music are. The camera angles inside the plane are very important for the look and the feel of the story.
Overall, “Flightplan” achieves exactly the kind of nail-biting suspense that the director, writers Peter A Dowling and Billy Ray and the actors were going for. However, there are parts that feel too slow, as if the pacing is off a little. We buy into Kyle’s fear for her missing child, but we get equal doses of paranoia and the possibility that Kyle lost both her husband and her daughter. With the way the film is written and acted, no one knows for sure what is going on until the final few minutes of the film.
The disc is recommended for fans of Jodie Foster and those who love the Hitchcock touch. It’s a great movie for those looking for what the director calls a “slow boil,” for a rainy night when the windows barely hold back the darkness and evil things and mental imbalances lurk just outside the reach of the light.