THRILLERS: Foster and Sarsgaard.
While it’s a mystery to this reviewer how Jodie Foster picks the films she’s in — since her superstar-making turn in 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs,” she’s played everything from an atheist cosmonaut (“Contact”) to a nun (“The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”), to an Old West gambler (“Maverick”) — she seems to know how to pick ’em.
A good testament to that fact is her new film, “Flightplan.” A drum-tight thriller, with more than a few of those topsy-turvy, Hitchcockian moments when you think the person you’ve been rooting for might be completely in the wrong, “Flightplan” turns out to be much more than the “ ‘Die Hard’ on an airplane” schmaltz the plot seems to promise at first blush (and which it might well have become had the lead role been awarded to any other actress).
Foster plays Kyle, a recently widowed engineer flying back to New York with her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) in the seat beside her and her husband’s body in the hold. It’s no coincidence that she’s aboard the latest super-jumbo passenger jet, taking a free ride on the maiden voyage of a plane she helped design. Trying desperately to hold it together, Kyle is shocked when she awakens — mid-flight — to find her daughter missing. What’s more, after a thorough search of the airplane with both the help of the crew and a gradually-more-pissed air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard), Kyle is informed that not only is her daughter not on the plane, the manifest says she never was.
While I don’t want to give too much away, suffice it to say that it all goes to hell from there.
Foster is terrific here as the harried mother lioness doing anything to find her cub. As in “Lambs,” her eyes, her brows, the corners of her mouth, speak volumes in the quietest moments of “Flightplan,” and it’s then that you know you’re looking at one of the best in the game. It’s a measure of Foster’s acting ability that — though there comes a moment when it seems as if all avenues for her character to be sane have closed — the power of her torment and anguish keeps you with her; keeps you rooting for the possibility that she might be somehow at the center of vast conspiracy instead of just off her rocker.
While I wish Foster would commit herself to more intimate fodder, she brings a depth and power to the blockbusterish “Flightplan” that simply wouldn’t have been there had any other actress been cast in the lead role. With a fast-paced and interesting plot AND Foster hitting on all cylinders, however, this is a thriller’s thriller — maybe one of the best you’ll see all year.
— By David Koon