Review: PLANE, Suspenseful Action-Thriller Worth Seeing In Theaters

Gerard Butler's impressive star turn powers a gripping disaster movie cum hostage drama that will reward adult audiences who give it a chance theatrically.

Contributing Writer; New Jersey, USA (@fuzzyyarns)
Review: PLANE, Suspenseful Action-Thriller Worth Seeing In Theaters
Audiences numbed by franchise fatigue and IP-driven content might despair of ever seeing an exciting, original, mainstream adult film, especially from Hollywood.
They are in luck, as Lionsgate’s new action-thriller Plane delivers the goods, in the doldrums of January, no less, usually a dumping ground for studio dreck, musty awards contenders and failed Oscar bait. This Gerard Butler vehicle is tense and pacy, and consistently delivers fast-moving entertainment through its breezy 100 minute runtime. If audiences want more of these, they will have to show up and support it theatrically.
Plane’s premise also reveals why the release date was moved up two weeks closer to the start of the year: it takes place on New Year’s Eve. Butler plays the captain of commercial airline “TraileBlaze,r” piloting a plane from Singapore to Tokyo, en route to Hawaii to meet his daughter before the year ends.
Among the 16 passengers on Butler’s plane are a convicted murderer in handcuffs (Mike Colter) and his handler, facilitating his extradition to Canada. After a lightning strike cooks the engine and the comms system, Butler has to make a desperate emergency landing on a remote Filipino Island in the Pacific Ocean. The tagline proclaiming “the crash was only the beginning” isn’t marketing fluff, as the movie then suddenly morphs into a hostage drama when Filipino separatists kidnap the stranded passengers and trigger an international crisis. 
Plane is able to muster up substantial urgency and momentum due to its highly controlled structure; the entire film from the first frame to the last takes place within about 12 hours. Within the confines of this rigorous time compression, Plane also drives interest by spinning out multiple lines of narrative interest. We don’t just track Butler and his stranded crew and passengers in the Philippines, we also follow the Trailblazer Airlines CEO (Paul Ben-Victor) in his New York City headquarters and the response team he has assembled, headed by a crisis management expert (Tony Goldwyn).
Action in the Philippines also splits up across multiple fronts, as we follow the attempts of the Filipino militia leader (Evan Dane Taylor) and his band of separatists to kidnap the passengers. A fourth group of characters is added to the mix in the form of a private military contractor (Remi Adeleke) and his unit that Goldwyn hires to covertly land on the island and pull off a daring rescue mission. All of these diverse sets of characters and plot strands collide and intersect in dramatic fashion, painting an admirably elaborate mosaic that makes you believe that the filmmakers have really covered the situation from all possible angles.
With its motley cast of characters, Plane is also free of the black and white characterization that afflicts most mainstream action films. It plays out not so much as a push and pull between heroes and villains, but between several gray characters of differing loyalties and agendas. At various points in the film, characters on all sides of the conflict make questionable decisions, which adds to the realism of the film. 
Plane also wouldn't be a worthwhile action picture if it did not complement its compelling story with several muscular action sequences. The turbulent landing of the plane is pulled off with the white knuckle suspense that Clint Eastwood brought to similar scenes in Sully. The various firefights in the second half are rife with unpredictability and consequence. You can feel the ammo as the fusillade of bullets tears through equipment and human bodies, doling out death and destruction on all sides.
In an industry now dominated by IP-driven properties, there is a lot of soul-searching going on at the moment about whether movie stars are obsolete, and who is and isn’t a movie star. When a list is made, Gerard Butler would certainly belong on it.
He might not have any gold statues to his name, but he has undeniable charisma, magnetism and everyman relatability that is hard to come by and also, frankly, hard to teach. A star is someone who you invest in and care about when they are on screen, and Butler routinely manages that with underrated acting chops. He might star in some B pictures, but he’s never phoning it in.
In 2007, Butler’s extraordinary performance as the violent Spartan warlord Leonidas in 300 brought him global stardom and name-recognition. His dramatic capabilities were readily apparent, though Hollywood was more entranced by his muscle-flexing heroics and quickly typecast him in that mold. Butler can play the hardass action star better than most, though his best work equally makes use of his dramatic talents. Plane, like 300, allows Butler to fully tap into his dramatic potential, and he delivers one of the best and most engaging performances of his career. 
It is also noteworthy that Butler’s testosterone-fuelled machismo in 300 has been leavened with age and sublimated into a kind of vulnerable masculine dignity, bringing pathos and even grace to his performances. Butler is middle-aged and plays middle-aged on screen. Unlike Dwayne Johnson, he can actually lose a fight on screen, get beaten up and get out of breath, as he does in Plane. His performance isn’t that unlike Tom Hanks’ in the similarly-themed Captain Phillips, though we can imagine neither Butler nor the film will get similar awards attention.
Butler also relegates beefcake duties to younger co-star Mike Colter, who ably shoulders the burden with impressively huge biceps and a great feel for action scenes, already evident in Marvel’s Luke Cage. This is Colter’s biggest big screen opportunity yet, and he brings terrific screen presence that could see him be a leading man in action films in his own right.
In fact, Colter and Remi Adeleke as the military contractor play the primary action men in Plane, with Butler as the emotional center. An extended mano a mano between Butler and a goon, filmed in a single unbroken take, is a highlight of the film, and reminiscent of the final scuffle between Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy in The Revenant.
Evan Dane Taylor and Tony Goldwyn, mentioned earlier, also make an impression, as do Yoson An as Butler’s co-pilot and Daniella Pineda as part of the cabin crew. The entire cast is made up of fresh faces that we don’t see on screen all the time. The international setting of the film also means we organically see a variety of races and ethnicities on screen, in leading roles and on all sides of the conflict, without the film specially underlining its diversity credentials. The mélange of accents heard on screen representing different cultures is also welcome, though as in all Gerard Butler films, he still feels the need to explain his accent with an in-story explanation every time. He’s Scottish, we get it!
Tech credits are solid, making good use of the film’s $50 million budget. Puerto Rico believably doubles for the Philippines in this largely outdoorsy film and the recreation of the airplane and airline procedures are credible. Behind-the-camera talent comes with a solid pedigree: co-writer Charles Cumming is a British novelist who writes spy fiction, editor David Rosenbloom and Co-Composer Marco Beltrami are Oscar nominees and substantially contribute towards making Plane as propulsive as it is.
And finally, director Jean-François Richet is a Best Director César winner (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for the Mesrine films starring Vincent Cassel. Several European auteurs, for an unknown reason, became part of the B-level action movie industry in Hollywood. But Richet’s strong work here helps him rise above that stereotype.
Original, R-rated adult entertainment, an unbloated brief running time, a movie star performance and visceral action movie thrills -- Plane has got it all. It’s now incumbent upon audiences to show up in theaters and support it if they want to see more of these.
The film opens in North American movies theaters on Friday, January 13 via Lionsgate. Visit the official site for more information.. 
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Gerard ButlerJean-François RichetMike ColterPlane

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