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The Jodie Foster airline thriller Flightplan could have emerged in no other year than 2005. We want and need a movie that will engage our anxiety about terrorism and the chaos in Iraq. For forty-five minutes, it looks like we’re going to get it. But this is 2005, Hollywood is just flirting, and Flightplan is a beautiful, terrible tease.

Kyle Pratt, Jodie Foster, lost her husband six weeks ago when he fell from the roof of their apartment building. She’s flying home with her six-year-old daughter, Julia, on the world’s largest plane, which Kyle helped design. There are two decks, four bathrooms, a lounge, and hundreds of seats. You could get lost in there. When Kyle wakes from her nap, Julia is missing.

Strangely, all the evidence says Julia was never on board. There have been hints that Kyle may not be right in the head. She’s taking something. She had a conversation in the snow with her husband, but we’re pretty sure there was only one set of footprints. Shots are set up ambiguously, so that other characters never get a clear view of Julia. Has Kyle been imagining her dead daughter?

Director Robert Schwentke and editor Randy Thom build tension with precision. The flight attendants try to keep a lid on Kyle’s rising panic with calm body language and soothing, professional tones. Funny lines of dialogue pop up to let off some steam, just so it can build back stronger. The tiny world of the giant plane seems to rotate around Jodie Foster’s terrified face — classic paranoid cinema from the Hitchcock play book. The movie’s real progenitor, though, is John McTiernan’s Die Hard , a movie everyone involved must have studied. This is not a criticism.

And then, what’s this? Kyle is suddenly confronting an Arab man named Ahmed, Assaf Cohen, who is sitting peacefully with three Arab friends. She is sure she’s seen him before. She accuses him of kidnapping her daughter to hijack the plane. The passengers watch like a hanging jury. We are shocked: can this scene really be happening?

Imagine if the movie followed through with its ideas about paranoia. Has terror made all Arabs look alike to Kyle? What if she next terrorized the plane, with Ahmed as hostage? Try the implications of that on for size.

But the plot twist arrives on schedule, and the movie gets a 200cc syringe of stupid, right in the neck. For the twist to hold water, an impossibly long string of events would have had to go perfectly. The movie gentles down into convention, and those hard-nosed ideas fade to black.

Is this expecting too much of what is, after all, "just" a thriller? They played the political card; we didn’t. Take a look at who lifts the luggage in the movie’s last shot, and tell me you don’t sense a calculating intelligence behind the camera that’s dangerously disinterested in the world.

Flightplan is playing at Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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