Foster shines in Flightplan

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In her first leading role since 2002’s Panic Room, Jodie Foster makes a return to pulse-quickening thrillers with Flightplan, which opened Friday, Sept. 23, and easily topped the weekend box office with $24.6 million.

Foster has earned a reputation for knockout performance, and this film is no exception. She is the fuel that drives this thriller, and she builds the intensity until the nail-biter of an ending.

Flightplan tells the story of Kyle Pratt (Foster), a recently widowed mother flying from Berlin to New York in a state-of-the-art 474 plane (which she knows like the back of her hand, thanks to her work as a propulsion engineer) with her daughter, Julia, to bury her husband.

Kyle wakes up during the flight to discover that her daughter has disappeared without a trace, and that no one remembers seeing her on board. She isn’t even listed on the passenger manifest.

Beautifully escalating from mild apprehension to all-out panic over the course of a few minutes, Foster darts through the plane, begging flight attendants to help search for her missing daughter.

Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard, Garden State) and Captain Rich (Sean Bean, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) join her in her quest, searching the cavernous craft from top to bottom, producing no results.

Another twist enters the plot when a morgue in Berlin notifies the flight staff that Kyle’s daughter Julia is actually dead. The staff is ready to dismiss her as a distraught and delusional mother who lost her daughter, but Kyle won’t give up so easily.

What follows is a tour de force during which Kyle uses her expertise to manipulate the aircraft, causing fits of panic among the passengers and fits of rage from the staff. Kyle is intent on finding out the truth about her daughter, not knowing where to look or who to trust.

Bean gives a respectable, controlled performance as the strong-willed captain of the chaotic flight, but the real must-see here is Jodie Foster, whose nuanced performance of a devastated widow clinging on to the hope of finding her lost daughter ranks among the best of the year.

Her emotionally-charged role is highlighted by frequent close-ups which allow her to let her emotions slowly build to a boil, much to the audience’s benefit.

Foster is particularly effective when contemplating her own sanity, unsure of whether or not her daughter really is dead. She tackles an impressive range of emotions, from grief to anxiety to vengeance.

Her strong-willed character is a rare one in Hollywood today: a woman who is smart enough and strong enough to save the day without any help.

Foster’s part was originally written for a man, but after seeing her make the role her own, I can’t imagine it any other way.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of the movie are as riveting as Foster’s performance. The plot tends to leave a little to be desired as far as the crucial plausibility factor goes, and some of the dialogue tends to be tiring and even cheesy. Sarsgaard tends to overact, giving his character an exaggerated sleaziness.

Bottom line: This movie is worth seeing based on Foster’s intense performance, but be prepared to roll your eyes at a few plot holes and sub-par acting from some members of the supporting cast.