When a passenger plane crashes onto a rebel-held island, the plan’s captain must team up with an accused killer to rescue the passengers and get them to safety.
“Redemption can only be found in the most unusual places,” says Louis Gaspare (a spare and charismatic Mike Colter) to Captain Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler, also charismatic and doesn’t stab anyone in the head) as they try to rescue Brodie’s passengers from a bunch of murderous separatists.
Louis is quoting a priest from the French Foreign Legion, a section of the French Army that allows people of any nationality to enlist under an assumed name to restart their lives; he ended up there running from a murder charge aged 18. Meanwhile the bereaved Captain Torrance, ex-RAF, is also running, or rather flying, criss-crossing the oceans to stay one step ahead of his grief. Two old warhorses, plodding on. Actually make that three, if you include the plane, which isn’t in great nick at the start of the film and by the end is almost reduced to a pile of Meccano.
I’m several weeks’ late to Plane, but it’s worth the wait — even if I did have to remove that fifth star when I realised the finale was not Autopilot Captain Torrance and Chief Flight Attendant Bonnie Lane slowly inflating in the cockpit and flying off to eternal happiness (until one of them sits on a pin) like Otto and his PVC girlfriend in Airplane!
It was an easy assumption to make though, as my sheer excitement at the film’s impending arrival saw me adding an illegal ! to that rather dour title.
The movie itself is as basic as that title, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. You know when you read a plot and your head is spinning at the diversions, complications and scores of names? Or you buy your favourite cheese at Christmas and some evil celebrity chef has decided to put plums in it. Plane’s, um, plainness means you don’t have to worry about any of that.
Trailblazers Flight 119 crashes through a storm onto a rebel-held island in the Philippines. Heading up the rebels is Datu (leader) Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor), a man who thinks nothing of murdering missionaries on camera. Torrance and Gaspare head into the jungle for help, the passengers are taken hostage by the rebels, and pilot and felon must work together to rescue everyone and get them all back to the plane (and home).
It’s deliberately simple, with only 14 passengers rattling round the cabin’s interior (literally, once the turbulence starts) though with such a small cast I’m not sure why they decided to have two shouty middle-aged bald white men on the passenger list.
Plane‘s spareness means plenty of room for tropes, including my favourite, the “pre-dead wife”. Brodie’s late love is there in the background, as her heartbroken yet stoic husband pushes on through life; but her absence also means we can secretly hope he gets together with the capable, beautiful Bonnie (Daniella Pineda). Still, despite the clichés, somehow lines that were cringy in the trailer (“my passengers, my responsibility!”) sound perfectly reasonable in context.
We first meet Brodie rushing through the airport on New Year’s Eve to catch his own flight from Singapore to Tokyo. Time differences mean he’s hoping to meet up with his daughter Daniela in Maui by midnight. A lighting strike results in fried communications — no radar, no navigation, no ADI whatever that is — and dead engines. The calm after the storm as the battery ticks down and they desperately search for land is beautifully eerie, until just in time Brodie spies a road on a heavily-forested island and lands the plane. (Terrifying, ticking minutes, where the two pilots struggle to control the plane, bookend this movie. Breathtakingly tense, they are more exciting than the squelchy shootouts in the middle.)
The offloaded passengers are grumpy that Brodie and co-pilot Samuel Dele (Yoson An, excellent) didn’t manage to crash-land in more salubrious surroundings, even more so when they realise that budget airlineing means hardly any snacks on board.
At Trailblazers HQ, crisis management expert David Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) has been brought in to find the plane and rescue its passengers. That means mercenaries, as the Philippines military has withdrawn from the island. (Somehow Goldwyn makes Scarsdale, who never leaves the Trailblazers office, both magnetic and heroic, even though he’s never in actual danger.)
The relationships between Brodie and Samuel, and between Brodie and Louis, are well done. Samuel is a family man, stepping up when Brodie goes off into the jungle. As for Brodie and Louis, they are hardly in bromance territory though there’s a mutual respect, and they even have a joint catchphrase by the end. “THAT’S your plan?” they say incredulously to each other, when Brodie suggests something earnestly sacrificial, or Louis suggests stabbing someone. A nice reversal, as anyone familiar with Butler’s usual films will note.
The violence is slow and, because of that, extremely brutal, whether shootouts or one on one wrestling/murdering. People get hurt and stay hurt, and there is an unexpectedly shocking death.
Despite that death, and Junmar’s cold brutality, Plane‘s comforting familiarity as a thriller means it only feels implausible when Brodie is phoning for help and actually knows his daughter’s number. (Since mobiles took over the only numbers I can remember are my childhood home and the one to call the BBC’s Multicoloured Swap Shop in the mid-1980s.)
This is solid and enjoyable filmmaking from director Jean-François Richet, that knows its limits. No overflowing passenger lists of extras, no shoehorned subplots. That simplicity does mean scenes in Trailblazers’ New York headquarters lack tension. Airline owner Terry Hampton (Paul Ben-Victor) is just a cheapskate but they vaguely try to make him a corporate villain at the end. Beyond that there is no “Jaws mayor” or “Aliens Carter Burke” getting in the way, apart from Carmen from Trailblazer HQ, who puts the phone down when Brodie calls up to tell them where they are.
As for actual villain Junmar, despite Butler’s cinematic CV the rebel leader’s real opponent — and reflection — is not Brodie, but Louis, a man whose youthful mistake (we don’t even find out if he did kill someone 15 years ago, though he certainly has since) has led to a life that may not be unlike Junmar’s. It’s been a life of running and fighting, with no space for the luxury of moral reflection.
In a movie that mostly plays to a formula, Gaspare is an intriguingly ambiguous hero, one we will get to see more of in upcoming sequel Ship. (And presumably five more after that, going by the number of one syllable modes of transport I can think of.)
Plane is now out on digital in the US and UK.