Flightplan: Jodie Foster, Warrior Mama

Jodie Foster is fast developing a cottage industry as Hollywood's primal mama, defending skinny daughter after skinny daughter from threats both without and within, and making audiences (especially women in their 30s and 40s) stand up and cheer with the fem-pop righteousness of it all. I say this with nothing less than utter admiration: Foster has become an instantly-identifiable visual icon of protective motherhood. She's all feral tigercat mixed up with a more cunning version of John Wayne. Is she single-handedly inventing a new genre here? Would pairing Foster with Sigourney Weaver and having them both chase through Sub-Level 3 looking for surrogate daughters kidnapped by aliens be a far better cross-franchise promotion than Alien vs. Predator? I'm saying yes.

That (and the film's advertisements) notwithstanding, Flightplan is in fact not Panic Room on an airplane. It's a denser, more claustrophobic thriller (who knew the largest passenger airplane on the planet could feel more constricting than a 5x10 concrete cell?) and relies more on psychodrama than action. Great tracts of the film are lost, in fact, to the big gimme, the other angle that Foster is becoming more and more attuned to playing: the "is she crazy?" thing. Yep, when Foster's daughter goes missing in the sealed vessel, Flightplan goes well out of its way - probably almost an hour of total screen time - to convince us that Foster has, in fact, slipped a nut: that there was no daughter, that horrible family trauma has generated hallucinations, and that we've been chasing wild goose all along. It goes a bit too far in this, in fact; there were at least three uncomfortable minutes where I expected the credits to pop up, and for me to have to leave the theatre thoroughly unsatisfied. Fool me once.

The trip into Foster's madness may be weakly structured and overlong, but everything else is nice and solid. Director Robert Schwentke gets great mileage out of his confined space, using the movement of other passengers, the changes in the light levels, and the good, old-fashioned niceties of tension editing and camerawork to constantly renew the visuals of the film so that it doesn't feel like we've just spent two hours on the red-eye to New York. And in terms of simple cause and effect, and chain of logic, the script serves the film extremely well; the old "when you eliminate the impossible" maxim is nicely followed, as we slowly tick off all of the possible explanations for the daughter's disappearance until finally arriving at the answer.

Sure, once the answer is revealed we are somewhat put off by the Hollywoodiness of it all (not to mention the gigantic logic gaps that seem to require the conspirators to have been masters of divination, in that they have somehow accurately predicted a few reactions too many from Foster's character), but this is also the part of the film where we finally get to see Foster whack bad guys in the face with fire extinguishers and blow shit up real good. We're past any failures of the filmmakers by now, because Foster is back in her element, dominating the screen as her own particular breed of action hero. I wish she was my mother.

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