Red Eye

Rachel McAdams is a movie star.  The evidence is plain to see in Wes Craven’s Red Eye, an exhilarating, old school, Hollywood thriller.  In the film she plays Lisa, an extremely competent employee at the Lux Atlantic hotel.  There’s a wonderful early scene that demonstrates just how cool under pressure she really is. 
 
An older couple try to check into the hotel but are dismayed to learn that their 6-month reservation is not in the computer system.  Lisa normally takes care of them but she’s in a cab on her way to the airport.  (She’s en route to her 91-year-old grandmother’s funeral.)  After the husband gives Cynthia (Jayma Hays), Lisa’s colleague, a choice – call Lisa or I’ll call “corporate” – she immediately contacts Lisa on her cell.  She quickly explains that she accidentally erased the reservation and has no clue how to resolve the matter.  As Lisa calmly and rationally starts to help her through the “situation”, she gets another call on the other line.  It’s her worrywart father (Brian Cox in a sweet, supporting performance).  In a matter of seconds she quickly ends the call to dad promising to call him back and picks up with Cynthia right where she left off without missing a beat.  It’s amazing. 
 
Her cab drops her off at the airport and although the older couple are none too pleased with the service, they get a room and Cynthia is eternally grateful.  After instructing Cynthia about what to do for an important guest’s arrival, she ends the call.  Meanwhile, she forgets about her father who immediately calls her back.  That’s another good scene because we sense the close bond these two, likeable characters share, especially since he is a single man again.  (We are later informed Lisa’s parents divorced after 32 years of marriage.  We never do learn why.)
 
But there’s more going on here.  Lisa isn’t attached herself.  Although she is intelligent and extremely good with people (she gives a nice, old lady her Dr. Phil book, for instance), she is a wounded soul.  While at the airport she meets Jackson Rippner (get it?).  He’s masterfully played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy in a nicely modulated American accent.  Jackson seems decent enough, especially when he invites Lisa to have a drink before their flight.  He even pays the bill.  But it’s just a little too coincidental that he knows exactly what her favourite drink is.  McAdams does something particularly well in this early scene.  She lets the audience know that there’s something up with this guy without changing her demeanour too much.  We realize she has good instincts about him.  Unfortunately, Jackson sees right through her.
 
In another strange coincidence, they end up sitting next to each other on their late night flight.  After some mild chit chat, Jackson comes clean and admits that he’s been closely observing Lisa for 2 months.  He informs her that her father is being closely observed as well by Jackson’s BMW-driving colleague right outside his home.  We learn that an important political figure – a Homeland Security bigwig, no less – is the target of an assassination plot.  He’s been booked to stay at the Lux Atlantic in his usual suite but Jackson needs Lisa to make a little change.  He wants her to relocate him to a room with a view.  She’s the only staff member at the hotel with the authorization to do such a thing. If she does as she’s told, her father’s life will be spared.
 
From that point forward Red Eye becomes a tightly wound, exciting thriller and I was surprised how much I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Director Wes Craven once again proves that he’s more than just a capable horror filmmaker.  Even though the film has a remarkably short running time (just 85 minutes), he makes every second count.  The first 20 minutes are pivotal in establishing the characters and generating intense interest in what they’ll say and what they’ll do.  Very early on, we know who we’re rooting for.  Then, the tension keeps building and building.  At points during this movie I literally jumped off the couch, something I never do, screaming in joy at key moments.  What a wonderful feeling.
 
The action sequences, particularly in the third act, are very exciting.  Craven might want to consider trying an action film in the future.  He’s proven here that he’s up to the challenge.
 
That being said, when you think about the actual terrorist plot, you have to wonder if it’s not more than a little transparent.  So much can go wrong, like turbulence cutting out the airplane phone signal for hours at a time or Secret Service Agents (one of whom is played well by Survivor Season Two runner-up Colby Donaldson) actually doing a better sweep of that very suspicious looking yacht.  But who cares?  This is an intelligent, exhilarating piece that benefits greatly from strong dialogue by first-time writer Carl Ellsworth and two terrific lead performances. 
 
This is only the second time I’ve seen McAdams in a movie.  Imagine my surprise when I learned a couple of years ago that she played that annoying blonde in that god-awful Rob Schneider stinker, The Hot Chick.  I still can’t believe it’s the same actress.  It’s reassuring to know that with a compelling screenplay she can excel.  She’s one of those performers whose face is so fun to watch you’re always trying to figure out what she’s thinking, what she knows and what she’s going to do to get out of this scary situation.  She is a formidable hero.
 
Murphy is so cold and evil – he’s got a great, villainous face and a terrific, deep tone to his voice – he immediately warrants your unvarnished hatred.  He’s a smart, devious bugger who, despite what he learns about Lisa, truly meets his match.
 
Red Eye, thankfully, was a modest hit during its theatrical run in the late summer of 2005. 
 
Need a quick jolt of excitement?  See this movie.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 2, 2007
10:34 p.m.
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Published in: on March 2, 2007 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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