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Dustin Putman

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Red Eye (2005)
3 Stars

Directed by Wes Craven
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jayma Mays, Jack Scalia, Angela Paton, Brittany Oaks, Loren Lester, Colby Donaldson, Jenny Wade
2005 – 85 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 12, 2005.

In a change of pace for famed horror director Wes Craven (2005's "Cursed")—and a much-needed switch in distributor from the creatively destructive Miramax to Dreamworks—"Red Eye" features no blood or gore to speak of, no otherworldly beings or serial killers, no nubile teen protagonists, and a low body count. What it does have in spades is a relentless heaping of masterfully created full-throttle suspense in a thriller that, like 1994's "Speed," 2002's "Panic Room," and 2004's "Cellular," is as time and story-efficient as it is good, old-fashioned fun. This is just the shot of newfound adrenaline Craven needed to show the world he is capable of working in genres outside of the slasher realm.

"Red Eye" begins almost like a setup for a romantic comedy, with young, reserved hotel manager Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) meeting handsome, charming stranger Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) at a Dallas airport. Returning to her home in Miami from her grandmother's funeral, Lisa and Jackson's late-night red-eye flight is delayed due to storms, and they find themselves sharing a warm conversation at an airport cantina. The not quite coincidental occurrences continue when Lisa and Jackson end up seated next to each other on the flight.

Once taken off, Lisa's fear of flying—and on a turbulence-ridden flight, to boot—becomes the least of her problems when Jackson gives her an abrupt and horrifying ultimatum: either she calls her hotel and changes the room that the Deputy Director of Homeland Security (Jack Scalia) is due to stay in the upcoming morning, thus laying way for his planned assassination, or her own father, Joe (Brian Cox), will be killed.

"Red Eye" has been deceptively marketed as a possibly supernatural film (the original teaser trailer practically screamed horror movie with Jackson's glowing red eyes in the final moments and an iconic shot, neither seen in the movie proper, of the palm of a hand falling down an airplane window in mid-flight). If one can work past these false expectations not being met, what they will find is a frightening reality-based thriller that, at a lightning-quick 85 minutes, is taut, smart and free of even an ounce of story fat. The screenplay by Carl Ellsworth is as straightforward as they come, handing the audience just what they need to know without feeling the need to overexplain things, and wasting nary a minute of time on extraneous subplots or the now-tiresome tendency to tag on a twist ending.

Like "Cellular," "Red Eye" introduces a normal, accessible protagonist and places them in unthinkable circumstances beyond their control as they find the strength to fight for their lives and the lives of others. Cut into three distinct acts—the sweet and frothy opening airport sequences, the quietly tension-filled flight, and the action-oriented climax in Miami—director Wes Craven delights in playing his audience like a virtuoso pianist, dropping them into the place of resourceful heroine Lisa and throwing one sticky situation after the next in their way.

Simultaneously, "Red Eye" is a nicely developed portrait of female empowerment. Lisa, still suffering from a traumatic past experience, has chosen to recoil from really living in lieu of burying herself in her work, and the physical and emotional strength she discovers within herself that she never knew she had gives the film a welcome, unforced extra layer. Kudos, too, for a rousing finale that, if predictable in its outcome, never dumbs down Lisa. In her struggle to survive, she doesn't make one wrong or far-fetched decision, and the intelligence that she naturally carries with her is put to valuable, crowd-pleasing use. Interesting, too, that she is ultimately forced to abstractly face her demons within her home, artifacts from her childhood sprinkled throughout the setting to show the viewer without spelling it out in needless exposition what type of person Lisa was, and who she has become as an adult woman.

Virtually a two-character show—the supporting players, from Brian Cox (2004's "The Bourne Supremacy") as Lisa's unsuspecting father, to Angela Paton (2003's "American Wedding") as a friendly talkative lady on the flight, to fresh newcomer Jayma Mays as Lisa's harried novice assistant manager at the hotel, are memorable with fleeting screen time—Rachel McAdams (2004's "The Notebook") and Cillian Murphy (2005's "Batman Begins") are excellent star attractions. Murphy, who may have the bluest, most scarily mesmerizing eyes on the face of the planet, makes for a perfectly-cast bad guy, charming and deeply disturbing at the same time. As Lisa, McAdams continues her climb toward the top of Hollywood's young actresses with definite futures as big stars and irresistible leading ladies. In a little over a year, McAdams has shown astonishing range, playing a villain herself in 2004's "Mean Girls," a lovestruck 1940s debutante in 2004's "The Notebook," and was one of the few redeeming qualities of 2005's overrated "Wedding Crashers." With "Red Eye," McAdams gets her meatiest, most demanding role to date, expertly going through a flurry of believable emotions within the film's limited time frame of less than twelve hours. She is fabulous.

"Red Eye" is to-the-point, economical, unapologetic popcorn entertainment that proves with the right script, director and actors such high-concept studio pictures can, indeed, be sharply adept at the same time. In fact, all involved make it look so easy that it leads one to wonder how and why so many stupid thrillers get greenlit, let alone reach the screen. Director Wes Craven treats his audience with an evened fairness, never holding their own intelligence in contempt. "Red Eye" isn't the most original motion picture of the year, or the most meaningful, but there's no denying it is one of the shrewdest and more genuinely thrilling.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman