We all know Jodi Foster can do the "protective mother" shtick, ever since "Panic Room." I thought Panic Room was brilliant, so I was looking forward to essentially the same premise on a plane.

In Flightplan, Foster plays Kyle, an airplane engineer who has recently lost her husband. She's traveling back from Germany to the States with her daughter, Julia (played with impossible cuteness by Marlene Lawston). Julia is so traumatized by her father's death (he "tripped off a building," ya see), that she is terrified of even going outside, much less on a plane.

The panic rises as Kyle awakens to discover her daughter is nowhere to be found. There's no record of the child and then we realize that nobody was really paying attention to her--or really anyone--on the plane.

The subtle message throughout Flightplan is that despite our heightened awareness of terrorist, we rarely pay attention to each other. It's easy to focus on the dark-skinned man with the beard, but apparently much harder to keep track of a blonde mother and her daughter. Why? Because we don't SEE her anymore, even though she's right in front of us.

There is undoubtedly some nefarious plans going on, but those plans are bolstered by malaise from the stewardess, the crew, and a streak of self-doubt from Kyle herself. Is she having a nervous breakdown?

Peter Sarsgaard plays Carson, the sky marshal. Sarsgaard channels John Malkovich with startlingly intensity (in fact, the two played father/son in "The Man in the Iron Mask"). Kate Beahan is a particularly annoying stewardess who, judging from her dark eye makeup, is clearly up to no good. In the background, Sean Bean lends gravitas to the Captain. You'd think airplane captains were born of royalty the way he portrays Captain Rich.

The plane is as much an actor as any human, rumbling and shaking at the appropriate moments. It's two levels (I didn't even know there was such a thing), and awfully roomy. That only makes sense, but it detracts from some of the claustrophobia if you've never been on a plane of that size before. On the other hand, I watched this movie while I was on a cruise ship, so I could understand the terror of losing someone in a confined space.

Throughout the film are other asides: comments on the fickle nature of passengers, on psychiatry, about white raged, and of course, about airlines. These interesting character studies turn the movie into more than just a mere thriller. If Flightplan has a villain, it's the audience, and it makes it clear that a little more compassion and attention to our fellow passengers might do everyone some good.