Director – Jean-François Richet – 2022 – UK, US – Cert. 15 – 107m
A commercial passenger aircraft flying through bad weather conditions gets into trouble and is forced to land on an island run by military insurgents – out on digital from Monday, March 13th
While this is unlikely to win any Oscars, it’s a shrewdly put together action movie that gets everything right, tells its audience exactly what it’s going to do and then proceeds to do it, wrapping up everything very quickly in about thirty seconds once the narrative is over. That might not sound like much, but most action movies you see fail to meet such criteria. Moreover, a lot of action movies work perfectly well on a small screen, but this one works better if you see it on as big a screen as possible.
Singapore. Scotsman Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler from 300, Zak Snyder, 2007) is cutting it fine and may be about to be late for work again. Since he’s an airline pilot, that’s quite a big deal. Somehow, he gets to the cockpit of the plane with enough time to introduce himself to his co-pilot Samuel Dele (Yosun An from Mulan) ahead of the pre-takeoff, routine inspection by an aviation official. And he manages a brief call to his grown-up daughter, to inform her of his schedule and to let her know he’ll be with her in a few hours. The life of an airline pilot!
With all that out of the way, however, the flight to Tokyo looks set (in true action movie tradition) to be anything but routine, with a handcuffed prisoner and escort being assigned at the last minute as unexpected, extra passengers. However, even as you’re thinking that hulking presence Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter from Black And Blue, Deon Taylor, 2019) is going to somehow cause trouble, that never quite happens. While clearly not enamoured of his arrest / prisoner transport scenario, he sits quietly at the back, cuffed to his minder, and appears to have no intention of causing trouble. Businessman passenger and whinger Sinclair (Joey Slotnick) looks like being more difficult.
What looks to be rather more problematic is the weather, with the plane routed to fly through an area in the Philippines where a storm is currently raging. “It’ll have blown itself out by the time you get there”, Torrance is told, but this being an action movie, it doesn’t and he has to fly the plane through it, which means extreme turbulence, in which a fatal accident kills Gaspare’s guard, followed by on-board systems failure and forced landing on an island in the Philippines run by a local militia where, it turns out, the Filipino Army refuses to go.
So now, Torrance, crew, passengers and unguarded prisoner are trapped on an island where there’s no rule of law, unable to communicate with air traffic control because their radio is down. The narrative cuts between their situation and corporate headquarters, where crisis management expert Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) takes charge, sending in mercenaries to rescue the victims should they still be alive. On the island, Torrance gambles that the one person on board who might be an asset as he goes in search of help is Gaspare, but then the latter vanishes while they’re working their way though jungle…
As well as starring, Butler is one of the producers and apparently had a lot of input into the film. That’s not especially uncommon with stars attempting to shape their own careers, but the surprise is, looking at this film, his judgement in general seems very good. The script is much better than you might reasonably expect. Richet (the two-part Mesrine film, 2008) manages to keep the narrative just the right side of plausible where another director might have delivered something risible. The whole thing feels surprisingly believable.
One terrific if brief fight scene, shot in one take, comes out of nowhere and is invested with an incredible, life or death feel. There are gritty shoot-outs that will have you on the edge of your seat. The in-flight mayhem early in the film is likewise impressive. Plane doesn’t try for action clichés or to make its stunts bigger than those of other movies, but instead puts in considerable effort on the level of character and storytelling, which pays off handsomely.
As a bonus, while most of the acting does what it need to but never rises above it, which is absolutely fine, Tony Goldwyn is compelling as the crisis management expert. Quite why he’s so good here I’m not sure – maybe it’s simply a superb piece of casting – but he provides an additional reason to see the film.
In short, I went in expecting a typically ropey action thriller and found myself gripped from start to finish. Did I mention that it even has the good sense to wrap everything up in a mere thirty or so seconds once the narrative comes to an end. In short, against all expectation, a treat: a terrific Friday night movie.
Plane is out out on digital from Monday, March 13th.
It was originally in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 27th, 2023.