By Owen Gleiberman
September 21, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
Flightplan: Ron Batzdorff
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Flightplan is one of those thrillers that pivots around the question of how daring — or how focus-group cautious — we suspect the filmmakers will turn out to be. On a double-decker airliner so huge and luxe it looks like the Hindenburg, Jodie Foster, as a newly widowed propulsion engineer (i.e., she knows everything about the design of airplanes), is taking the red-eye from Berlin to New York along with her 6-year-old daughter (Marlene Lawston). When Foster wakes up, the girl has vanished, leaving behind a rumpled blanket and Teddy bear. As the crew members search the plane, turning up nothing, Foster, her face chalk-white, her mouth drawn into a grimace of despair, ratchets up the anxiety. She struts down the aisles in raging fits of hysteria, ticking off the other passengers as she demands that something be done, even as the flight data turns up no record of her daughter ever boarding. Is she crazy, or is she the victim of a conspiracy that would have to be fragile, if not tortured, in its logic?

Since Foster plays warming-up-for-a-straitjacket panic with a clenched intensity rare to behold in a Hollywood actress, I, for one, was rooting for the radical — that is, nuthouse — option. Flightplan has been ingeniously shot by Florian Ballhaus (son of the great cinematographer Michael Ballhaus), who sweeps the camera with stately dread through the blueish night glow of the aisles, penetrating to the plane?s eerily minimal electro-tech chambers. Peter Saarsgard plays a flight marshal with a bit too much oily fey menace, and as far as the crucial plausibility factor goes, let?s leave it at this: If you actually believed anything that happened in Red Eye, then you have no right to object to Flightplan. Everyone else, object away.

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