Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Marlene Lawston, Erika Christensen, Kate Beahan
(PG-13, 93 min.
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Modern air travel overflows with lurking dangers, but losing your daughter mid-flight usually doesn’t make the list. Impossibly, though, that is exactly what happens to Jodie Foster in the taut thriller.
In the crisp and spare opening sequences, however, artful German director Robert Schwentke does a masterful job of creating doubts about exactly what is possible, real, or true. The film begins, not aboard a jet, but in a deserted train substation where Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) waits for her train all alone. The sleek coach arrives noiselessly, brightly colored, yet essentially cold and soulless. No wonder Kyle welcomes husband David when he suddenly appears to share the ride with her. So too as she enters the echoing staircase of their brick apartment building. In fact, David’s presence is so comforting that she requests a talk with him in the courtyard, no matter that it is mid winter in Berlin, and the postage stamp of lawn and bench are completely covered in snow.
Interposed with these images, we see Kyle talk to a doctor who asks her to identify her husband’s body, and when we return to the snow filled-courtyard we see only Kyle and a single set of footprints.
Back in the apartment, which has the impersonal imprint of about-to-be-deserted lodgings, Kyle tucks in her very solemn six-year old daughter Julia and prepares her for the next day’s flight to New York. They will bring David’s body back for burial and live with Kyle’s parents. Julia asks the kind of practical questions that even grief does not suppress. Will she have her own room, and do they have pancakes in America? When her mother tells her that they will both share her own childhood bedroom, for a while, at least, we are not sure if this arrangement is for Julia or Kyle’s benefit. For, as much as she puts on a brave front for her daughter, we see in the pinched pallor of Kyle Pratt that she is every bit as shaken and unsure as her daughter.
Two dark strangers in the windows across the street stare into the uncurtained bedroom, adding to the feeling of nameless dread. The next morning, Julia is too frightened to leave the lobby and board the waiting taxi. Kyle gets her there by hiding her under her dark coat as they trek through the snow, and through the camera’s eye it actually looks as if only Kyle is there,
Again, almost playing with the audience, Kyle and her cartful of luggage are surrounded by the sea of humanity in the crowded airport, when suddenly Julia is not there. After a few moments of panic, the camera pans to her at a food concession. A relieved mom has to stop herself from saying, “You scared me to death.”
Yet the specter of death colors everything. As mother and daughter wait to board the super jet, which incidentally flight engineer Kyle has helped design, they spot a solitary coffin among the luggage being loaded. And Julia worries that the mechanics inspecting the wings of the aircraft might fall, reminding us of the “accident” that caused her father’s death.
Shortly into the flight, however, the teasing disappearances of Julia become a reality as Kyle wakes from a nap to find her missing. Kyle’s mounting panic is exacerbated by the fact that no one on the plane remembers even seeing her daughter, her boarding pass is not in Kyle’s pocket where she put it, and Julia’s gear is absent from the overhead bin. All that remains of Kyle Pratt’s six year old is a small teddy bear.
At first the flight attendants and even the captain are cooperative in the search for the little girl. When she is not found on the flight list, however, they call the same Berlin hospital that issued David Pratt’s death certificate and learn that they have one for Julia Pratt there as well. Now Kyle’s frenetic search seems the wild fantasy of someone deranged by grief. Since so much of the camera work has been through the Kyle’s eyes, we wonder as well. Just as with the David sightings, have we been tricked into seeing Julia alive?
Much of the beauty of Flight Plan is that it plays on this ambiguity to the extent that even Kyle begins to wonder if she is delusional. And the claustrophobic atmosphere of the super jet – even though this is quite some affair complete with snazzy lounges and bars – adds to the tension. Each time Kyle gets permission to search for her daughter, the other passengers must remain in their seats, compounding the smoking restrictions and next to no knee room situation with the withdrawal of bathroom privileges. It is enough to turn them against the frantic mom, and they do so with a vengeance.
In the hands of a less accomplished actress, we might not make it through the continued turbulence of Flight Plan, but in spite of self doubt and outrageous fortune, veteran Oscar winner Jodie Foster navigates us through the stark ethers at 37,000 feet to an unanticipated landing, one filled with bumps and jolts, but nonetheless, grounded in reality.
Even in the best of moods, it’s difficult to get much of an appetite for prepackaged airplane fare. That is, if you are lucky enough to get it rather than an endless supply of cellophaned pretzels. They’ve even given up on offering peanuts, at least a source of protein, in the light of the deadly allergic reactions they cause in a small segment of our population.
And let’s face it; Jodie Foster’s Kyle Pratt isn’t going to have much of an appetite anyway, what with her husband’s coffin and disappearing daughter absent allies on her flight.
But at least Julia, whether or not she actually exists, has some culinary expectations, wondering if her American grandparents eat pancakes. I think we’ll provide her with a hearty German version, complete with warm apples and cinnamon to chase away the sad images of snow encased Berlin.
German Apple Pancakes
4 tbsp. butter
4 med. apples
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 - 9 inch pie pans - 400 degrees for 25 minutes
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in each pan (do not let brown). Pare and core apples. Slice and spread evenly into each pan. Beat eggs till blended, then add flour, milk and salt; beat until smooth. (Batter will be thin.) Pour batter over apple slices, divided evenly between pans. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over batter. Serve with warm syrup or sour cream. Serves 4. When doubling recipe use only 6 eggs.
Recipe Source: cooks.com