October 01, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Critics disagree with surprising frequency, highlighting the subjectivity of viewing films. I agree with Roger Ebert as often as I disagree with him. When you're dealing with opinions, that's the nature of the business. Roger has a greater appreciation for film as art; I am a stronger proponent of narrative and character based movies.

A recent disagreement with Roger relates to Flightplan. He liked it; I didn't. Not a big deal. But there is a word in his review that caught my attention because it is at variance with what I saw in the film. The sentence in question is: "... Flightplan delivers a frightening thriller with an airtight plot." I'm okay with "frightening;" the word from which the disagreement springs is "airtight," which my dictionary defines this as "having no weak points." Is Flightplan airtight? Not in my opinion.


I'm not going to provide a comprehensive list of the flaws in the movie. It's not necessary to prove my point. Instead, I'm going to focus on one thing - something so obvious that it will occur to many viewers while the film is playing, not afterwards. And that, in my way of thinking, is what separates a bad thriller of this sort from a good one.

The storyline postulates that the air marshal and his stewardess henchwoman have conspired to make Jodie Foster seem insane so claims that she has a bomb and is demanding a ransom seem explicable. It's a complicated scheme, and the payoff is huge. But no one except in a big, dumb Hollywood movie would come up with a plan that hinges upon three unlikely, uncontrollable elements. In order for the plot to work, no one on the plane can see the little girl. No one. That's about a likely as there being no traffic on an expressway during rush hour. Secondly, Jodie Foster has to fall into a deep sleep that allows her daughter to be whisked away. That's a possibility, but would you want to base a multi-million dollar con on it? Finally, the assumption is made that the little girl will not struggle, wake her mother, or be seen by other passengers when she is being spirited away to the nether regions of the plane.

No matter how hard you try to rationalize these points, it becomes clear that the screenwriters haven't thought things through. I can devise an explanation for point #2 - Foster's meal/drink was drugged with a sleeping agent. But the movie never argues that. (It would also work as a partial explanation for point #3 - if both Foster and the daughter were drugged - although someone would likely notice a docile girl being carried up the aisles by either the air marshal or the stewardess.) The truth is that the screenwriters were lazy and relied upon the gullibility and inattentiveness of their audience. Sadly, that's too often the case with thrillers.

Roger Ebert likes Flightplan. After reading his review, I can understand his position. If I had viewed this movie as airtight, my thumb would be pointed in the upward direction as well. But I can't subscribe to that interpretation. Too many holes have let the air out of the compartment, and my thumb remains pointed down.