Director Wes Craven has had quite a year. Back in February his Cursed, one of the goofiest werewolf films ever made, opened to bad reviews and publicity regarding the disaster-laden production. It tanked at the box office and is currently residing on DVD shelves at a store near you. Now we have Red Eye, a true about-face for Craven. The man who virtually created a genre (the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating horror film) is now tackling Hitchcockian suspense, and does so with conviction, but also with some signature Craven licks.
In Dallas for the funeral of her grandmother, Lisa Reisart (McAdams) is catching the red eye flight back to Miami to make it to work the next day. She’s a true people pleaser, and she has to be in her profession. She is a manager at the Lux Atlantic Hotel, and their next vacancy is about to be filled by the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security (Scalia).
After arriving at the airport early and quickly discovering that her flight is delayed because of weather, Lisa innocently meets Jackson Rippner (Murphy), a kind man who is clearly immediately attracted to her. To kill time they talk life over a few drinks at the airport bar, and upon finally boarding the plane, they end up sitting next to each other.
This is for good reason. Jackson is in fact a hit man of sorts (he doesn’t do the killing, but he can talk a good game), and he needs Lisa to phone her hotel and change the room that the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security is scheduled to occupy, making it easier to execute the hit he and his henchmen have been hired to do. If she does not, her father (Cox) will be killed.
Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth, in his first big screen venture (he has several TV series writing credits to his name), keeps things innovative and brisk. He places Lisa in the very precarious situation of being 35,000 feet in the air and seemingly having no choice but to cooperate with Rippner’s demands, but always has a few tricks up his sleeve. The bulk of the film, which takes place on board the plane, shows a near-mastery of apprehension just by dialogue, let alone action. He uses turbulence as a Richter scale for Jackson’s increasingly mounting temper with her inability to cooperate. This is solid writing, through and through.
Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy are two big-time up-and-coming actors. McAdams, fresh off the continuing success of Wedding Crashers, has the uncanny ability to shed tears and get distressed without overacting or eliciting unintentional laughter. She always manages to portray characters that we all know and can relate to, and I highly doubt there will be a woman in the audience who can’t relate to Lisa. Murphy, coming off the success of Batman Begins, plays a smooth-talking, cold-blooded villain with the best of them. He is not an intrusive presence and actually seems like the kind of guy you’d start a conversation with if you had to waste some time. Craven makes continuous use of his iridescent blue eyes, as if they encompass his entire existence. I think they get bluer as his times grow grimmer.
The film is not without flaws, particularly in its final fifteen minutes when it goes all crazy on us. It does, however, give Craven the chance to throw in some seriously dry humor and his impeccable skill for getting audience members to yell “no, don’t look there!” at the screen. By then I was thoroughly under the film’s spell and I’m willing to give it a pass on that alone. This is what we call summer entertainment, and who would have thought that a mid-August barn burner would emerge as one of the best films of the summer?
Length: 85 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence, and language.
Theatrical Release: August 19, 2005
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Carl Ellsworth. Story by Ellsworth & Dan Foos.
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jack Scalia, Kyle Gallner, Jayma Mays