With two sons of her own, Jodie Foster's been drawing on her maternal instincts in recent outings. Her last film, Panic Room, was about how far a mother will go to protect her daughter when threatened by intruders. And her new film, Flightplan, is about how far a mother will go to retrieve her daughter when forcibly separated from her. The answer: pretty damn far. A thriller set almost exclusively on a plane that's crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Flightplan allows Foster to deliver what's becoming her trademark performance ' a woman who's barely holding it together but is about to kick some ass. There's the danger that she's falling into a rut, of course, or at least there would be if Foster didn't throw everything she's got at the roles. Nobody projects weakness with such strength.
As Kyle Pratt, a propulsion engineer whose husband recently either fell or jumped from the roof of an apartment building, she's weaker/stronger than ever. Kyle helped design the plane she's on, so she knows every nook and cranny. But she's also in a state of grief. And when she wakes up from a nap to discover that her 6-year-old daughter (Marlene Lawston) is missing, it takes everything she's got to avoid going into a state of shock. Then worse news: The airline has no record of her daughter having boarded the plane. Most actresses would crack under the pressure. Foster finds hidden reserves of talent, subtle ways of indicating that Kyle isn't as weak as she seems, nor as strong. And although we never doubt that she'll locate her daughter, we aren't entirely sure she won't find her in the cargo hold, next to her husband.
In Red Eye, which was set on a late-night flight from Dallas to Miami, director Wes Craven turned the plane's cramped quarters to his advantage, letting the tension rise as the cabin pressure fell. Here, director Robert Schwentke takes the opposite approach. The aisles are appropriately narrow, but Schwentke gets a lot of mileage out of a plane that has two floors and enough secret hiding places to keep Kyle guessing for weeks. Accompanied by James Horner's violins-in-mourning score and Jon Title's bravura sound design, the camera is almost a separate character, pointing out things we might otherwise miss, including a number of red herrings, the most provocative being a group of Arab men who are tired of paying the price for 9/11.
Flightplan isn't without a few flaws in the engineering. Peter Sarsgaard, though always a welcome presence, just doesn't seem like an air marshal. And if you thought about it really hard, there are holes in the plot big enough to fly a plane through. But Schwentke has things under such control that you don't think about it very hard. Instead, you flip off the light, push your seat back and enjoy the flight.