Flightplan (2006)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Jodie Foster, Sean Bean, Peter Sarsgaard, Erika Christensen, Marlene Lawston
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Short Film, Movie Showcase

"People will think what I tell them to think. That's how authority works."

'Flightplan' brings Jodie Foster back to her dark roots in this thriller that sadly fails to fully engage its audience, though. To be reasonable, you'll likely enjoy this film for its opening and middle acts… but it'll only make things more disappointing when the far-fetched, derivative third act is finished.

Home to an exceptional Hitchcockian premise, 'Flightplan' is the story of Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster), an airline engineer who loses her husband in a tragic accident. With her young daughter (Marlene Lawston) in tow, she boards a plane that's carrying her husband's casket and begins the trek home to bury his body. Exhausted, she drifts to sleep… waking moments later to find her daughter has vanished. Gaining the assistance of a pilot (Sean Bean) and an onboard U.S. Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard), she frantically begins a search for her child. However, as the situation develops, the passengers and crew begin to question whether the young girl was ever on the flight or if this widow has gone insane with grief.

For the first hour of its runtime, 'Flightplan' had an overwhelming grip on my attention. I respected the fact that the story remained vague as I waited to discover whether Foster's reality was drowned in madness, a result of a strange phenomenon, or something more sinister. Unfortunately, the path the film follows (don't worry, I won't spill it here) is so packed with plot holes and contrived logic that I felt myself getting upset at whatever writer decided take us in this direction. I would've adored this movie if it was made in Japan or Korea. If we were even told what happened to the child, it would've resulted in a mind-bending twist of the paranormal or a focus on insanity and humanity's ability to deal with death.

There's a lot to love in 'Flightplan' before you reach the annoyingly trite conclusion. Jodie Foster, playing a version of her character in 'Panic Room,' is wonderfully grounded and delivers a top notch performance that sells every moment of her search. Focusing on the supporting characters, Sean Bean and Peter Sarsgaard add a lot of warmth and concern to their roles that creates tension and believability when they begin to question Foster's sanity. The cinematography, particuarly when it's housed within a large airliner, is stark, haunting, and unexpectedly striking. I instantly connected to the visual tone of the film and enjoyed suspending disbelief for quite some time to allow Schwentke to lead me from scene to scene.

Other problems abound, but they're all relatively minor in light of the major failing of the last act. It seems massively convenient that Foster is an engineer who designed the exact plane she's flying on, the less significant actors deliver some truly terrible dialogue, and the back stories of most characters are explored too loosely. In the end, the film a well constructed thriller that you should try no matter what I say… just rent it and prep yourself for a possible letdown.

'Flightplan' received an average transfer to standard DVD but recently reappeared on this Blu-ray release with an assortment of major visual upgrades. I couldn't find one instance of noise, artifacting, or scratches, colors appear naturally in the low light of the aircraft cabin, and a boosted sharpness gives us a glimpse of some careful texture detailing. Shadows play a major role in this grittier toned film and retain their depth without any delineation. The contrast has been artificially massaged and there's a fair amount of softness to long shots, but these are both the result of stylistic decisions made by the filmmakers. Most effective of all, the film's visuals soak the aftermath of the girl's disappearance in a dream-like state that helped create an uneasy foundation for Foster's mental health. It really helped to call into question whether even she could continue to believe her own story.

Without many action beats until the final twenty minutes, 'Flightplan' provides us a quiet but effective presentation with its audio package. The first thing I noticed was the soundscape and the fact that I could hear every sound of the plane and could direct your attention to where it originated. Movement between each channel is sublime and I found myself reacting to smaller sounds as if they had actually occurred in my home theater. Every now and then, whispered dialogue fell by the wayside, but I never lost a line that was overly important. Overall, the soundfield was more subtle and technically superior than most Blu-ray releases and it brilliantly added a touch of atmospheric dread to the film.

The supplemental features are fittingly robust for this kind of release and most are surprisingly good, even if you didn't enjoy the film itself. The commentary track introduces us to a candid director and I found myself listening through the entire track without feeling the need for a break. He had no delusions of grandeur like I've encountered in a lot of recent commentaries and he avoids veering into technical tangents most of the time. Next up is a set of featurettes that are well paced and never drag. It's a standard overview of the production, but there are some nice cast interviews to keep things fresh. Finally, there's a short film by Jason Schwartzberg that's obviously a favor from someone who developed this release, another pointless movie-scene showcase feature, and the snazzy, seamless menus that should never be labeled as special features again.

As thrillers go, 'Flightplan' has a lot to offer… I just wish it could capitalize on its potential and setup with more flair and originality. The payoff is so plodding and complicated that no amount of argument could justify its logic. Luckily, the video and audio are top notch so fans of the film will feel they've spent their money well.