Kyle Pratt (Foster) boards a transatlantic flight with her daughter (Marlene Lawston) to return the remains of her recently deceased husband to the United States. Midway through the flight, the unexpected happens-the six-year-old Julia disappears, leaving no trace of her ever having been on board. Faced with an incredulous crew and complacent fellow passengers, Pratt desperately searches the plane for her missing daughter.
In spite of the enticing plot, it takes Flightplan a long time to get off the ground. Director Robert Schwentke opens with a confusing montage-designed, presumably, to cast doubts about Pratt's sanity-that the film never adequately addresses. The action proceeds slowly from there as Schwentke wastes time with unsuccessful attempts to simulate a mother-daughter relationship strong enough for us to care when the girl disappears.
Luckily, Foster's convincing portrayal of the panicked widow succeeds where Schwentke's direction fails. In fact, the entire cast, including the versatile Peter Sarsgaard as an undercover air marshal, shines in this otherwise lackluster film. The subtle glances shared between crewmembers suggest that an underhanded plot may lie beneath every innocuous interaction. In the resulting environment of suspicion, it is impossible to determine whether there is a conspiracy to kidnap Pratt's daughter, or if she is just insane.
Still, even after Julia's disappearance, when the drama should be at its highest, Flightplan stalls. Looks exchanged by flight attendants can only entertain for so long. Being confined to the airplane, the movie's "action" turns to Foster. Again and again she sprints melodramatically through the aisles, climbs into hatches, and crawls through the luggage compartment, but after a while her desperation feels less like action and more like a twisted celebrity triathlon. In the end, when the actual nature of Julia Pratt's disappearance finally becomes apparent, it feels anticlimactic; Flightplan makes viewers wait too long for too little.