Arthouse vs. Multiplex: ‘Flightplan’ and Trailer Exhaustion

Flightplan. Image courtesy of Touchstone PicturesIf your cinema taste is sufficiently broad to encompass a regular diet of big studio offerings, it’s impossible to avoid feeling overexposed to certain movies far in advance of their release.

Big studio marketers prefer “audience awareness” to “overexposed,” but the plain fact is that seeing the exact same trailer more than three or four times gradually dims any initial enthusiasm. Given the growing propensity by the marketers to reveal the majority of a film’s plot twists in the trailer, it’s no wonder that, by the time the film is finally released, it stands a good chance of tasting like pizza that’s been reheated one time too many.

The initial U.S. trailer for FLIGHTPLAN sucked me right into its premise: a woman’s daughter disappears during a transatlantic flight. The woman’s desperate entreaties result in the plane being thrown into an uproar, complicated by the revelation that no one else remembers seeing the child. Finally the pilot has some bad news: the woman�s daughter is dead. But the woman remains convinced that her daughter is alive, and since she helped design the plane, you can darn well believe she�ll do something about it. The trailer ends with the woman smashing a fire extinguisher into the camera POV. With Jodie Foster as the woman, Sean Bean as the pilot, and Peter Sarsgaard as an air marshall, I was sold.

That was May 2005. More than four months later, having been subjected to the trailer more times than I cared to tabulate, I had built up unreasonable expectations for what I hoped would be a thriller with surprising twists and turns. Could this story have a weird supernatural edge? Was it part of a terrorist plot? Was Jodie a terrorist?

Alas, the surprises had already been disclosed in the trailer, and the third act resolution sharply descends into such routine, predictable nonsense (complete with boorish action heroine cliches, ridiculous plotting, and vigilante-style self-righteous justification for the unnecessary death of the villain) that it made me reassess my assumptions about Jodie Foster.

Because she�s made so few films lately, and is paid such a rich salary, I was under the impression that she was very selective about the characters she chooses to play. Yet this is the third film in eight years (the others being CONTACT and PANIC ROOM) in which she�s portayed a headstrong, wildly emotional woman who is doubted by others but proves by her fierce mettle that she was absolutely correct in all her actions. Oh, if only they had listened to her! Why won�t people believe poor Jodie?

Peter Sarsgaard, Jodie Foster, and Sean Bean in Flightplan. Image courtesy of Touchstone PicturesStill, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the consummate skills of Ms. Foster, Mr. Sarsgaard, and Mr. Bean. Ms. Foster is compelling as an ordinary woman beset by grief, her emotions sawed to the bone, to the point where any spark sets her off. Mr. Sarsgaard is quietly firm and convincing as an air marshall � a steelier version of his role in SHATTERED GLASS � and Mr. Bean lends stature as an empathetic authority figure.

Up until the sheer stupidity of the plot derailed my interest, I enjoyed Robert Schwentke�s taut direction and breathless pacing. Schwentke, a native of Germany, made the dark, brooding serial killer thriller TATTOO a few years ago, as well as THE FAMILY JEWELS, apparently a comedy about testicular cancer. His colloborator here was the invaluable cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (son of Michael); the colors favor dark blues during the nighttime flight, but the disruptive searches open up a wider palette while remaining shadowy and mysterious.

More than incidentally, many critics pointed out the similarities to Alfred Hitchcock�s THE LADY VANISHES. I must confess to an embarrassing bout of myopia. Even as I saw the FLIGHTPLAN trailer over and over again, Hitchcock�s train disappearance picture never flashed into my memory. Sadly, I�ve seen the Hitchcock piece only once or twice, and my mind, overflowing with FLIGHTPLAN trailer imagery, must have pushed it back into a remote cabinet. That�s the real price you pay for trailer exhaustion.

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