The baby vanishes.
Well, maybe not a baby, but a 6-year-old girl who bears a pint-size resemblance to Miss Froy, the Lady Who Vanishes in Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 suspense thriller "The Lady Vanishes." In that still-definitive example of taut, witty storytelling, the conveyance on which she inexplicably disappeared was a train. In "Flightplan," the vehicle has been updated -- quite smartly -- to a jumbo jet, with all sorts of compartments, holds, bays, closets and hidey-holes for a little kid to crawl into.
For most of its 88-minute running time, the movie quite effectively gives viewers the impression of being on that plane, as Jodie Foster -- playing the girl's desperate mother, a recent widow who may or may not be mentally unhinged -- tries to lead her fellow passengers in a search. Foster, who manages to project strength and vulnerability in equal measure, is joined by Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean, both excellent.
Striking just the right balance between claustrophobia and vast, terrifying emptiness, the young German director Robert Schwentke ratchets up the tension with good taste and quiet, unfussy skill. It all falls apart with the Big Reveal, whose florid improbability is completely at odds with the stylish, tightly controlled realism that has gone before. But right up until those final moments, "Flightplan" succeeds admirably, both as a sophisticated psychological thriller and as an example of, if not great art, then superb craftsmanship.
-- Ann Hornaday