Release Date – 27th January 2023, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Director – Jean-François Richet
A pilot (Gerard Butler) of a commercial flight must protect his crew and passengers after crash-landing on an island run by separatists.
Plane is further proof that we shouldn’t just suppose January as solely a dumping ground for weaker studio offerings and failed awards contenders (or in the UK the main round of awards releases). While going in you might presume it to be at best a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road actioner it’s not just really good but may end up as one of the tensest films of the year, even before we get into the main action on the separatist island.
Gerard Butler plays Captain Brodie Torrance, a commercial flight pilot forced to go through the middle of a storm and suffering the consequences after crash-landing on the Philippine island of Jolo. An island which the government and military don’t dare go near due to the danger posed to them by the ruthless separatists who run it. Yet, before the actual landing we have to get through the flight-gone-wrong. We may see the general character types of the few passengers on the plane, but the film doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in such elements and details. Instead we’re thrown right into the chaos and panic of the moment with the sequence playing out in near real-time to enhance the overall effect. You’re pushed back into your seat as the tension rises. There’s a belief that the pilots know what they’re doing, but can’t properly do it due to the conditions. The whole flight is perhaps the highlight of the film. A truly brilliant sequence.
When on Jolo, however, everyone is completely out of their depth. There’s uncertainty over whether a rescue attempt will be made, where to go and what to do. Yet the biggest threat comes from island leader Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor) looking to hold everyone on the plane for ransom, or simply getting his men to kill them. There’s a real darkness to the film from this point, it’s a very different tone and style to what has come before, but it still manages to work in more of a survival thriller style vein. There’s a strong engagement factor and the fact that stakes are clearly established add to the intensity of the thrills and action. Add to that the fact that the film truly lives up to its 15 rating and there’s a lot to throw you into the fast-paced narrative.
There’s a risk, as with a number of films of this nature, that we could see characters wandering around the island going back and forth and generally creating a repetitive set of events and chapters. While we may see a tangent of Butler and Mike Colter as a fugitive being sent back to prison on the flight scouring the area to try and find a phone to call for help with it fits in rather well. In fact, most elements which could feel like a new stage never go as far to feel drawn out or like a new focus has been introduced. Everything moves along rather well thanks to the action and threat which is on display and the way that the various elements of the island are used to move things along.
Perhaps it’s the surprise factor of the film, and just how far it goes at some points, which helps to keep you engaged. There’s an entertainment factor to it. Rarely leaning into silliness or something which feels overdone yet still taking itself too seriously. Whatever it is it clicks and works and takes you along for the ride. A ride which luckily isn’t as bumpy or disastrous as the one depicted in the film, although one which is certainly as tense. An excellent piece of tense action entertainment.
Unexpectedly dark and slightly gory Plane establishes its stakes and sticks to them, ramping up the tension throughout to make for a highly entertaining piece of work. A really great surprise this early in the year.