Sunday, August 12, 2012

You Know You're On A Crappy Flight When The In-Flight Movie Is Red Eye

The Good: Acting, Plot concept
The Bad: Predictable characters arcs, Fails to evoke tension, DVD extras are lame, Short!
The Basics: Despite a good start, Red Eye mortgages the ability to create a compelling thriller for a cheap, predictable set of lines and resolution.

Cillian Murphy jumped into my attention with 28 Days Later, which he was fabulous in. He was underused in Batman Begins, but I had good cause to trust he would be good in Red Eye, a horror movie specifically tailored for our current political paranoia. This was the first movie I had seen with rising star Rachel McAdams.

Hotel desk clerk Lisa Reisert is traveling home from her grandmother's funeral when her flight is delayed. While waiting for her new flight, she meets Jackson Rippner, who is attentive and charming with her, though he is giving off a pretty creepy vibe the whole time. Lisa boards her plane to discover Jackson has the seat next to her. They begin to talk and soon Jackson reveals that he is on the plane for Lisa. He wants Lisa to change the room assignment of a Homeland Security officer at the hotel where Lisa works. If Lisa does not comply, Jackson has someone who will kill her father. As the flight goes on, Lisa struggles to beat the terrorist and Jackson becomes more insistent about her need to comply.

This is Wes Craven's take on the Julia Roberts movie Sleeping With The Enemy and his direction of the movie bears a striking resemblance to that, down to some of the shots near the end. Fortunately, neither Carl Ellsworth nor Dan Foos - who wrote Red Eye - were associated with Sleeping With The Enemy, making them derivative and not one trick ponies.

Red Eye is a thriller, supposedly, but it does very little in the way of thrilling. The film tries to make everything into a moment of tension, from the music in the opening credits, to the plane taking off, so by the time the conflict between Jackson and Lisa actually becomes something, it's past the point where the audience feels able to care or feel tense. Instead, it is predictable in all of the worst ways, once the premise is established. Sadly, Wes Craven has squeezed himself into the same safe box as far too many other directors following the September 11 attacks, so while Red Eye features a plot that is reacting to the attacks, it is not bold in any way about the statement it makes. And that's disappointing.

Moreover, this is a very "male" movie for a film with a female protagonist. Lisa is strong, but when it comes to the critical moments, it is the men who do the heavy lifting. Lisa and her coworker in the hotel, Cynthia, risk their lives to protect the homeland security officer, Charles Keefe. And they do it all for, a pat on the back. The men here are the real protectors; Keefe is protecting the nation and his family, Lisa's father Joe protects her. To be fair, all the men are villains here, too, so they are portrayed as both the villains and protectors. Women, including Lisa, are merely accessories, pawns in their games.

This is especially bothersome on the character level. Red Eye's latter third hinges on Lisa being a strong woman who is able to kick some serious butt. The moment - early in the film - that she sees a scar on her chest in the mirror, her character is completely explained to almost anyone with a brain who understands the world we live in. The problem is, because this is such an obvious character tell, in order to do anything that we don't expect, well, the movie would have to do something truly different. Instead, Lisa says exactly what one would expect about being a woman in her position the second before she begins to truly fight Jackson.

Again, it's very safe in this p.c. age to show women kicking the crap out of men and to its credit, Red Eye establishes two characters who are on fairly even footing (at least by the time they are actually locked in combat). The problem with this type of conflict is that is has become passe. In almost every such conflict, the viewer pretty much knows who will win (so, for example, in Alias, it does not matter the size of the man Sydney Bristow is up against, odds are good she'll win). Somehow, it's become perfectly all right for us to show men pounding the crap out of women, so long as the woman triumphs in the end. In most cases, I'm fine with that. In Red Eye, I was hoping for ANYTHING that might be surprising. Anything.

Those who want to watch Red Eye hoping for a real horror movie are likely to leave disappointed. This is, at best, a psychological horror, one man toying with one woman to get what he wants from her. The broader text of this movie is a political thriller. Jackson is the new face of terrorism, sent to make a statement to Homeland Security by assisting in an endeavor to take out one of their public faces.

The problem, then, is that Jack does not work. We are meant to believe that he has the resolve and determination of a terrorist, yet he makes amateur mistakes like not knowing when to cut his losses. We are made to believe that his personal vengeance trumps either his desire to make a political statement or his desire to survive in the underworld long enough to be hired for another job that will bring him money. Jackson makes no real sense, so while Lisa is the cliche of the now-strong survivor, Jackson is a parody of a terrorist that only an audience under 17 could believe in.

Cillian Murphy, however, is wonderful. Murphy's acting creates Jackson as a reasonable gun-for-hire and his ability to alternate charm and menace is wonderful. Murphy expresses more with his eyes than some actors get out with a whole page of dialogue. He is cold, calculating and wonderful in his performance. It's a shame that he was not given a better (more sensibly written) villain to play.

Rachel McAdams is the real winner of Red Eye. Despite playing one of the most predictable roles in recent memory, she did it well. She was essentially human throughout and strong and determined and she was believable. Sometimes that's the most one may hope for. The best thing to come out of my watching Red Eye was in looking McAdams up on the IMDB, I learned she's in talks to play Claire Abshire in the film adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife, my favorite recent read (reviewed here!). Now I have to think if she'd be as good as Claire . . .

This is a "PG-13" movie and it barely deserves that high a rating. The DVD extras include one of the lamest "gag reels" I've ever seen and a commentary track that does not make the movie any more interesting. All in all, this is a disappointment. Cillian Murphy is in better movies and I'm sure Rachel McAdams is, too. As for Wes Craven . . . if you can't make a movie that's over 90 minutes, maybe it's time to get out of the business.

For other works with Cillian Murphy, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight Rises
Tron: Legacy
The Dark Knight
Batman Begins
28 Days Later


For other movie reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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