The reviews for Flightplan in the States were harsh. Frankly after reading some of them and seeing the ratings coming out I really did wonder if Jodie Foster had made a very big mistake with her movie choice, yet I was confused, I had read that she carefully chose this script and was really keen to do it. So I went to see it courtesy of the excellent Ocean Vue at Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal, one of my favourite cinemas in Edinburgh.
So what was going on? Did the critics have it all wrong? Did this story of a woman who thinks she's lost her child on a plane in mid flight while everyone tells her otherwise just seem to preposterous? Well I went to find out and I was expecting the worst.
Boy was I surprised to find that the lead in is quite subtle and wonderfully filmed with suggestions, subtle references and cuts back and forth in time. It was really good and had me interested within a few seconds. It's when they actually get onto the plane and the flight begins that you start wondering how in the hell you're going to be entertained for the next hour or so, what can possibly go on that is going to keep you that interested and excited?
The first search of the plane takes up a bit of time, and during this time your questions go out the window (so to speak) as you are drawn into the mystery and the tension builds. This is something that the movie manages to do very well and noticeably beats others in the so called thriller genre. From the moment that the child is missing you are put on edge, and all around the main character others are glancing oddly, making the odd gesture or pause in their speech, there are all these small things that help to raise your suspicions and nerves, and at no point does the movie let go before it's due to.
That really impressed me, for so many movies of late that I've seen try and build this tension and either go over the top with the misdirection or don't do enough of it. In this movie they seem to have the formula spot on.
Then when we reach the pivotal point of the movie we're treated to some more strong film making. Although it's not a huge shock moment, there is a fair amount of realisation and it happens in a few moments during a few small and inconspicuous actions. Yet it's enough for the whole movie to turn on its head, just as it has you believing one thing it turns you the other way.
One of the aspects they exploit well is that all the characters are given possible evil twitches, it might be that the pilot is played by Sean Bean and not your clean cut guy with some ambiguity, or the nervous stewardess that keeps glancing around. The fact is that all the characters all look dodgy in some way, so you just don't know.
There is one very poor moment at the start of the movie, and it's one of these Hollywood moments that screams at the audience "Hey, look at this...this will be important later on. We'll just linger on this scene for another few moments just to make sure you have it...yeah, few more moments just in case you're completely thick...few more..." Oh please, it's obvious in the first few seconds of the scene that we've caught the moment, but the camera lingers on and Jodie Foster stares at the camera as though she's just seen her career fall apart. It's a truly awful moment.
Strangely that contrasts against some really well visualised moments, for instance near the beginning the subtlety of the camera panning down the apartment to the front door, passing over the broken face of the statue outside the building. It's an odd moment that you only really understand later on, but is left in the mind lingering. Something is not quite right there, and it's not done with a big Hollywood sign.
Foster is superb, even despite the "look at this moment". During the early moments of the flight her performance slowly builds up and the character actually becomes quite grating, before long you feel as though you are sharing the angst and resentment of the rest of the passengers, and that was something that I really enjoyed feeling. You also get to see some seriously strong raw emotions, something I'm always amazed that Foster does so well. I always imagine that portraying such strong emotions on screen doesn't do yourself any good, yet she can turn it on and off so well and so believeably.
Hollywood is not far from this movie though, and the ending is filmed in a hugely over sentimental style, almost sickly so, and it does grate against the rest of the film. There are two moments that made some of us groan, the smoke and the waking up...you'll know what I mean if you've seen it, very poor and unimaginative.
What I was amazed about was the portrayal of the Arabs in the movie. Interesting that it almost seems to take one moral stance and then does something amazingly embarassing at the end. The holding of a mirror up to the audience of perceptions of Arabs is very interesting, and I felt it to a degree myself, yet later when we're treated to what should be another humbling moment and a moment of accepting, we see one of the most cringe-worthy and humiliating scenes I've ever witnessed outside of an embarassing comedy. It wasn't only myself that caught it, there were others too.
As one of the Arabs extends a hand of friendship, they are belittled by the main character who says nothing, and the offer of handing her bag to her becomes more like the duty of a servant than a human being. The moment just falls flat on its face and I'm not one for reading political contexts into things, but we both felt that the scene reeks of the Arab being subservient to the American, it did stick out like a sore thumb and made us look aghast.
Apart from the bad points though, it was a solid thriller that really did surprise as to what it could do with such a seemingly limited and transparent plot. Foster provides us with another superb performance, and Bean delivers another strong supporting role and slightly off his usual type as well. With some good twists and strong emotive writing it's well worth a watch.