Gerard Butler Plane

Plane is a fun, old-school action film and a great showcase for Gerard Butler

3 out of 5 stars

A grizzled Gerard Butler plays Captain Brodie Torrance in French action director Jean-François Richet’s (Mesrine and Blood Father) Plane. Brodie has to fly one more commercial flight from Singapore to Tokyo before joining his daughter in Hawaii, but bad weather is on the horizon. The airline’s argument is clear: The flight is undersold, and they will lose money if he uses more fuel. Speaking with an airline representative, he’s told to power through the storm despite his better judgement. 

In a classic action-thriller formula, the plane features a wide range of characters: young girls on vacation, an uptight businessman and a criminal being extradited to Canada to face trial. As an audience might expect from the premise, the flight hits the storm, and things go from bad to worse. 

Against what you might expect, Plane works. It’s a movie that moves from one action set piece to the next and features enough characterization to keep things compelling and emotional. While Butler’s accent is a bit all over the place, he’s sympathetic as Brodie Torrance; he wears his heart on his sleeve. Though resourceful and a skilled fighter, he’s also appropriately reluctant and uncertain as he navigates an unprecedented situation. Compared with some of his other action-star contemporaries, a vulnerability to his performance makes him particularly endearing. He’s fragile and impulsive; he even cries. 

The film has two villainous strains: corporate America and an island full of criminals. The former, by far, is more compelling overall. From the moment it’s clear the plane has “disappeared,” the fictional airline brings in a PR man who instructs the room to start drawing up press releases for each possible scenario. We watch as the corporation backtracks on its money-saving solutions and blames a lower-rung employee for making a call he was likely instructed to enforce. Even as Captain Brodie manages to get through to a helpline, the PR stunt of rushing to make a statement means that prank callers bog down the phone lines. They hang up on him. 

Though the head of PR is presented as a somewhat sympathetic figure, the film can’t escape the insidious nature of corporate America. Their motivation to recover Brodie and the plane never seems benevolent. All they care about is their image. When they hire a group of mercenaries to assist in the rescue mission, the men-for-hire may be presented as attentive professionals. Still, they are also motivated only by a large payday. In this world, money rules all. 

The film’s action sequences are largely succinct and sometimes frightening. The claustrophobia of the plane sequences should give pause to anyone afraid of flying. Though some visual effects are cheap, the editing, sound and direction more than make up for it. There is one scene of hand-to-hand combat that is thrilling and dirty, shot in a long extended take, and it features two men grappling in a well-choreographed, messy kind of fight that feels uncomfortably true to reality. Rather than a ballet of punches and kicks, it’s an exercise of brute strength. A singular sequence amidst mostly firefights, it stands out as one of the highlight scenes of the film. 

While Plane will hardly revolutionize cinema, it’s a fun, old-school type of action thriller that usually gets relegated to an early-winter release but, as of late, are rarely particularly good or fun. Gerard Butler and his co-star Mike Colter (who may or may not play a Québécois) ooze charisma and deserve credit for elevating the film, particularly as some of the supporting performances are pretty weak. Overall, a fun and succinct action film. ■

Gerard Butler in Plane (directed by Jean-François Richet)

Plane opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Jan. 13.

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