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Flightplan

Year: 2005
Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, Erika Christensen, Kate Beahan
Only a few directors become adjectives. It's not for nothing we don't use terms like 'Cohenian' or 'Bayian' (after Rob Cohen and Michael Bay, the men behind some of the biggest dumbest action films of modern times), but you often hear 'Spielbergian' (slightly sugary drama with absent parent themes), 'Kubrickian' (brooding and meticulous) and 'Tarantinoesque' (anything cult movie fans like).

So a word that was bound to (and indeed has) been tossed around with gay abandon upon the release of Flightplan is Hitchcockian. It's a word applied to any film that tries to encapsulate a slightly claustrophobic feel in a simple but irresistible mystery where we - along with the hero - have no idea what's going on and no choice but to sit on his or her shoulder trying to find out.

Like his three most famous movies Rear Window, The Birds and Vertigo, Flightplan is about an everyday schmoe thrust into circumstances that are mysterious and in this case, terrifying.

Bereaved widow Foster plays a mother taking her six-year-old daughter home to the US on a huge airliner overnight only to wake up during the flight to find the girl missing.

As it would have been a much bigger stretch of credibility on a 12 seater light plane, this is the mother of all passenger craft - stuffed with so many bars, galleys, toilet cubicles and countless rows of seats it's almost a hotel. But Kyle (Foster) is quite right as she tries to reason with and finally lose her temper at the crew - despite the size and scope of the plane, the little girl can't have gone anywhere else.

What makes matters worse, there's no record of her daughter having been on board, and nobody admits to seeing her.

Is Kyle the victim of an elaborate plot? Or has she cracked under the anxiety of losing her husband and - as the flight crew claim - did her daughter die in the same incident that took her husband, the child she bought on board a delusion of her shattered mind?

It's a question Kyle will stop at nothing to answer, and director Schwentke doesn't give anything away until almost the end in a big and nasty payoff. Some films give the game away too early and are then let down when they descend into a by-numbers action/thriller climax, and Flightplan does suffer from that to a small extent.

There's also been some criticism about the story, the leading lady and her character being much the same as they all were in 2002's Panic Room. The role is indeed virtually the same, the basic premise very similar, but that film was about tension because we knew what was going on, not tension because we didn't. Flightplan doesn't contain the best work of anyone involved simply because the script isn't Shakespeare, although Perth girl Kate Beahan exudes an air of confidence rarely seen in starlets-of-the-moment as a flight attendant.

If you liked Hitchcock's films for the way he kept you on the edge of your seat, trying to guess what was going on, you'll indeed find Flightplan worthy of the adjective Hitchcockian. It's not the best example of the genre we've seen this year (taking characterisation and performance into account, The Machinist still edges to the front), but if you like being kept in the dark or you want to brag to your mates that you saw it coming for miles, it's a flight you won't want to miss.

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