Red Eye (2005)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #298

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 19, 2005
Genre: Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $26,000,000
Box Office: $95,577,778
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Wes Craven
Producers: Chris Bender, Marianne Maddalena
Screenplay: Carl Ellsworth
Story: Carl Ellsworth, Dan Foos
Special Effects: Ron Bolanowski
Visual Effects: David Lingenfelser, John E. Sullivan, Jerry Pooler
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Score: Marco Beltrami
Editing: Patrick Lussier, Stuart Levy
Studios: DreamWorks SKG, BenderSpink, Craven-Maddalena Films
Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures
Stars: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Laura Johnson, Max Kasch, Jayma Mays, Angela Paton, Suzie Plakson, Jack Scalia, Terry Press, Robert Pine, Carl Gilliard, Mary Kathleen Gordon, Loren Lester

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Marco Beltrami Red Eye Suite

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Until recently I had no idea about red-eye. As far as I was concerned it was what happened after one too many bongs and had nothing at all to do with air miles. I was also aware of pink eye; an affliction brought on by a less than honorable friend farting on your pillowcase before bed time. But the red-eye flight was alien to me. Straight off the bat, Wes Craven deserves a nod of credit for widening my vocabulary. Thanks Wes, your film is off to a sterling start. Now that I am very much aware of what red-eye means and having watched this film in New York before making my way back via night flight to London, I feel that I am in the best possible position to appraise this piece of work.

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A different rule-set applies when engaging in a red-eye. Virtually the entire flight is undertaken in absolute silence, all aisle lighting is extinguished, and nigh-on every passenger assembles under their travel blanket, desperate to grab much-needed some shut-eye which will prove a fruitless endeavor for most. Regardless of whether day or night, I never sleep. At 6″1 I spend the entire time battling cramp in my left calf and praying the guy in front doesn’t hit that recline button. He invariably does. Yet, for all my bogus fortunes, I’ve never had it as bad as Lisa Reisert. Soon to rue the very day she booked that e-Ticket, she sets off to Miami, Florida on the elusive red-eye.

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Whilst nowhere near as prolific as he was back in the late seventies/eighties, Craven remains a household name. He made his own luck with Scream and got in first, but it proved to be the blind leading the blind as increasingly inferior sequels fell into most of the pitfalls he himself signposted so effectively. However, the franchise has seen decent returns and afforded him virtual invulnerability, regardless of the second-rate silage which occasionally rattles forth from his stable. When a project such as Red Eye is suggested, Craven is ready to take up the helm and the whole world waits with bated breath to see whether we will finally receive another Elm Street. If there is one criticism that I would level at Wes, and I do so respectfully, then it is that he often hasn’t maximized his potential. Many of his films clutch defeat from the jaws of victory based on him falling down in one key area or another. I feared that this movie would be no different.

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If I were asked for one word to personify Red Eye then I would choose workmanlike. That alone should suggest the answer to my previous question. It is business as usual, well dressed and played and fits its slender 85 minute running time rather well. It thrills mildly and benefits from two solid performances from its young leads. Rarely does it put a foot wrong per se, although just as infrequently does it push the envelope farther. It is safe, almost sterile. To me that denotes a wasted opportunity as the premise yearns with possibility for deliverance of a taut thriller. It is satisfied to maintain the silence rather than jumping up and down in its seat from time to time and letting itself be known. It also bolts the paddock far too early, frittering any steadily augmenting sexual tension between its two focal passengers.

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The first is swanky hotel executive Lisa (Rachel McAdams). Returning to Miami on a delayed flight from Texas, she is offered a seat on the red-eye as compensation for any inconvenience. She has a few hours to kill and spends these making the usual small talk with poorly written secondary characters until such time as a suave international type bearing the ominous mantle Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) makes himself known to her. As luck would have it, fate has paired them together on the flight and it appears that the pair will develop a friendship over the course of transit. He’s a little creepy for sure but nothing out of the ordinary, at the very worst he could be a date rapist and looking to introduce Lisa to the mile high club in awkward confines. A terrorist? Never in a month of Sundays. Appearances, as we are about to learn, can be most deceptive.

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Murphy took the red-eye himself days before his wedding to meet with Craven and was rather sold on playing Jackson. His eyes reportedly won the director over and they do the exact same to us. One imagines James Spader in the same vein; almost too handsome to play rogue, there is however a certain darkness behind the lights in his striking eyes and he utilizes this advantage to its fullest extent. He is mostly the perfect gentleman but, should Lisa attempt to underline his authority as she does on occasions too numerous to be funny, then he can flick the switch and, for a brief moment at least, it can feel like we’re watching vintage Hitchcock. Alas, he is not afforded the chance to stretch his legs enough.

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This is where Red Eye begins to falter; its pacing. It is a film of three distinct acts: set-up, meat and potatoes, final hurrah. It is compliment to both McAdams and Murphy that it plays its hand far too early. While we are still working out whether young love could blossom, he is revealing his plot for assassination and informing Lisa of the part she must play to ensure the safe passage of her father, who Jackson’s henchmen have under surveillance. It effectively alleviates much of the growing tension between the two and there’s only so much you can do with cat-and-mouse when the two leads are strapped in unison to their designated seats. Brief displays of calmly committed violence punctuate the second act’s lull but aren’t quite enough to fully convince that we care enough for the outcome.

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Despite such shortfalls, McAdams in particular, is excellent. There can be a tendency to overact in such situations and she resists the urge to pile on the dramatics. Instead she gives a remarkably grounded account of herself and is utterly convincing as the beleaguered desk manager. She does her level best and, after her plane lands and she enters into a final showdown with her cruel puppet master, we’re right behind her every attack. The same cannot be said for the supporting cast whose caricatures are poorly rendered and not one capable of advancing the plot. However, considering the screenplay was adapted from the first full length screenplay of relative newcomers Carl Ellsworth and Dan Foos, it hangs together relatively well. Meanwhile, an emotive score by Marco Beltrami and superior editing from Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy only serve to heighten the experience further and keep things moving at a swift clip.

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Red Eye is a smart, engaging thriller and more than worthy of your time. It is hamstrung largely by its confined setting and never quite recovers from the fact that it is revealed early on that Lisa is in no immediate danger. Thus it doesn’t make full use of a potentially excellent setting and it feels like the fasten seatbelt sign is constantly lit throughout. It commits no cardinal crime and instead the flight is somewhat smooth and incident-free. But it had within its grasp the opportunity to be so much more; with two dependable leads such as McAdams and Murphy it really should have gained more altitude.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Never really part of Craven’s flight plan. Outside of a somewhat uncomfortable looking tracheotomy there are only the barest of bones when it comes to the grue.

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