Red Eye Review

Buckle up for a heavy dosage of turbulence, a complex conspiracy and a couple of overly righteous customers in Wes Craven’s incredibly effective 2005 thriller, Red Eye. 90 minutes of claustrophobic hell that is among the upper echelons of the thriller genre.

Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), in the midst of grief and major familial upheaval, finds herself an unwilling cog in a major political conspiracy when she stumbles across the charming Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), an apparent business manager also booked in on the same delayed flight on the titular flight. Craven doesn’t reinvent the genre as such but his spin on it draws upon the years spent atop his craft, forging a ridiculously tense, near heart-destroying atmosphere.

Ultimately, the film knows exactly what it is, and that is something that makes it so endearing. Effectively a character-driven vehicle, the plot is simple. Hotel staffer Lisa has been groomed by a mystery man, Jackson, into moving controversial, outspoken politician Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia) from his preferred room into one less protected as an easier way of assassinating the man who has ruffled a few feathers. It doesn’t repeat or rehash old, tired conventions of the genre. It isn’t a case of “cold war” style themes and oppositions. There is no hyper-trained, competent spy at the heart of the piece.

Red Eye strips it to the very bare minimum, yet sells those barebones as a premium and frankly, it’s believable. It effectively leans on the performance aspects, the opening half-hour is focused largely on the duo of Murphy and McAdams and given it feels like a naturally occurring connection, audiences are immediately invited to hop on board of the created world here and not for one second does anything feel too far out of the realms of believability – a true breath of fresh air in a genre plagued by cliche and genericism.

While Brian Cox may well count himself as the biggest star, “name” wise that is, Cillian Murphy is fiercely on form. Serially underused by Hollywood, the Irishman is towering, almost screaming for more recognition in his role as Rippner. A naturally talented and passionate actor, Red Eye breaks the shackles usually on him in those smaller, cameo-like roles, drawing on a few conventions of the rom-com and of course its intended action and thriller blend basis. There’s such a rich, diverse character on show, which draws out an incredibly broad-ranging turn. Donning an ear-to-ear smile and turning up the charm, to being suddenly dead behind the eyes and emotionless, he fits the role of villain so perfectly, even demonstrating his physical presence, as Rippner pressures his subject into playing her part. Such a memorable turn, it’s a serious case for one of Murphy’s best performances.

Sharing in that incredibly undervalued perception is Rachel McAdams who makes for an incredible lead. With her character Lisa, torn between recently divorced parents, on a hot streak of bad luck and weighed down with grief, McAdams’ rounded performance prevents those from becoming trope-like, shallow beats that form a single dimension. An instantly likeable and relatable figure, it compliments the pacing of the film – with a character, proper, from the first few seconds, audiences are thrown into this world which immediately feels real, a testament to its writing and those who bring it to life on screen.

A year on from Mean Girls marks a breakneck twist for McAdams, who stars as a bright-eyed everywoman. Forced into using all her wits in an attempt to save her father, Joe (Brian Cox), and herself from the clutches of Rippner and his plot. Red Eye has elements of the cult hit Speed, a pure showcase of the charms of its star. In what must have been an incredibly draining role on account of the sheer emotional toll and intensity that forms her character, her performance is breathtaking and packs a tonne of surprise too. McAdams has genuine action star credentials.

Evident a lot in Scream for multipurpose use, be that satire or simply a means of extenuating the horror, Craven’s direction has complete control over a setting, its environment and its scale. The late stage of Craven’s filmography, wherein Red Eye falls, did steady a little, briefly moving away from horror, but his 2005 effort truly capitalises on that mastery of film form. Freeing our protagonist from the plane during the closing twenty minutes, the preceding hour becomes unbearably claustrophobic. With each passing second that plane becomes more and more inescapable making for a difficult watch as Red Eye initially paints out doom for its protagonist. A truly masterful realisation of a script and something that should be a blueprint for that genre as a whole, Red Eye is a reflection of Craven’s masterful direction and understanding of the visual structures behind the horror/thriller genre.

Red Eye is unjustly slept upon. A tightly refined, highly effective thriller that deserves a lot more acclaim, the film contains some of the finer performances from its seasoned stars and offers a refreshing, new side to a master genre filmmaker’s decades-long career.

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