2000s, 3/4, Review, Thriller, Wes Craven

Red Eye

#3 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.

This is the sort of movie that Wes Craven should have been cutting his teeth on in the late 70s and early 80s. Establishing himself in Hollywood, he should have gravitated towards tighter, smaller thrillers with an emphasis on actors that he could make quickly and efficiently, written by solidly talented other writers as he honed his directorial craft. This feels like a taut example of a young director’s talent more than an older director who had always had trouble finding his voice and always working in genres he felt the least comfortable in. I wish he had discovered this kind of film much earlier in his career. I think it might have put him on a better path.

Lisa (Rachel McAdams) is returning home to Miami after her maternal grandmother’s funeral. After a brief stint over the phone to the hotel she manages where she walks Cynthia (Jayma Mays) through a pair of troublesome customers and preps her for the early arrival of an important Homeland Security official, Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), in a few hours, she meets Jack (Cillian Murphy) in line at the airport. He’s not a bad looking guy, and he seems nice when he defends the poor, overwhelmed ticket counter worker from a mean customer. They strike up a conversation at the bar outside their gate, and his niceness keeps winning her over slightly. Oddly enough, they end up sitting next to each other by the window. I had completely forgotten, but the trailer for the film follows along with this structure and even plays music to make it seem like a romantic comedy before things go south, and, other than a credit sequence with percussive music and a montage of bad guys prepping for bad things, the movie feels almost like something along the lines of a romantic film for the first act.

Things go south when Jack reveals that he represents people who want her to move Keefe from one room to another, and if she doesn’t do what he wants, he will call a man waiting in front of her house who will kill her father (Brian Cox) if Jack doesn’t get what he wants. The second act is the game of cat and mouse, told mostly in a pair of adjoining airplane seats, between the two as Lisa tries to figure ways out of her situation without contributing that what is obviously a terrorist act and Jack catches up pretty quickly. They’re both smart, taking advantage of small things here and there to get a leg up on the other, and it works really well. Jack ends up getting what he wants by the time the plane lands, though, and it seems as tough Lisa has lost.

Lisa fights back (surprisingly gruesomely, too), and we get a chase with a couple of different dimensions. It’s all solidly done. There’s real tension even though none of it is terribly unpredictable. It involves a RPG from a boat in the harbor, exploding hotel rooms, car chases, and a hunt through a house. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works well enough. It’s why it feels like the work of a younger filmmaker proving himself instead of an older filmmaker who doesn’t make this kind of stuff.

The whole thing is really anchored by the core two performances from McAdams and Murphy. McAdams gives what is probably the best female performance in a Wes Craven film. Neve Campbell was kind of great in Scream, and McAdams is right there as well. There’s a wonderfully wounded woman there who finds an inner strength tied to an earlier trauma. Murphy is wonderfully threatening as Jack as well, especially when he gets a pen into his windpipe and he can’t speak without plugging up the new hole in his neck. I also love Brian Cox as the exhausted and slightly annoyed father. It’s probably his greatest moment as an actor.

This is a short, simple film without a whole lot to say. It’s a solidly entertaining thriller, and it could have been a window to Wes Craven finding a new direction for the final stage of his career. That’s not where he went, though.

Rating: 3/4

5 thoughts on “Red Eye”

  1. Huh. I wonder how Craven got the job? Did someone take a chance, did he ask for something different, or was he someone’s fifth or six choice? Hard to say where some folks find strength.

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    1. I can’t find much behind the scenes information about the movie, so I don’t know for sure. However, I’d assume that Craven, given a certain level of freedom in the middle of the Scream movies, found an interesting script that was different from his normal work (he never wanted to be a horror film director), and was able to get the assignment.

      I doubt his fight would have been that hard, but I’d assume that he was the one going towards it, not that the producers fought to get him.

      That’s just my guess.

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  2. I’m leaning towards ‘work for hire’ gig for Craven. Because this is nothing like anything he had creative input on. Red Eye is pretty good.

    I like Murphy as an actor, too. He’s good, even when given crap like playing ‘Scarecrow’.

    I want to know why this is so good. I don’t think it’s Craven and it’s PROBABLY not that hack writer Ellsworth either. I doubt it’s Dan Foos. Or am I just jaded?

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    1. It’s a super-basic thriller that manages to fulfill it’s super-basic functions super-basically. I presume that most screenwriters are capable of that. If you can sell a script, you should be able to manage something this modest in ambition.

      And, much like Scream, I assume that Craven simply didn’t screw it up.

      He did seem to get better with actors over time, though. McAdams is kind of great in this. I get the impression that Murphy is one of those actors that knows what he’s doing and doesn’t need a lot of direction, though.

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