Red Eye is a bit of a departure for director Wes Craven, whose films tend to be of the mad slasher variety (the Scream movies, Nightmare on Elm Street). While Scream is meant as an ironic semi-spoof of the genre, it is gratuitously violent and misogynistic. In Red Eye, Craven moves to a more mainstream thriller, and his protagonist, Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams of Mean Girls, The Notebook and Wedding Crashers), is a woman who can take care of business.
The title refers to the late night flight on which Lisa, a hotel executive who is afraid to fly, rushes back to her hectic job. The consummate workaholic, Lisa fields cell phone calls from a harried reservations clerk (Jayma Mays) and offers calm, direct advice. In her world of reservations, last minute changes and whining guests, Lisa is an oasis of—well, not calm, but composure. Look up "grace under fire," and you'll find Lisa's picture.
In her working world, she is completely in charge. There are no boorish complainers in her cosmos, only clients with "special needs." Everybody comes away feeling that they have gotten what they want. She is able to see every conflict as a management issue and takes no personal offense when a guest whines like a spoiled child. Her ability to manage the most demanding customers gives her a sense of power and invincibility.
But those strengths will soon be tested by a fellow traveler, Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins), who at first seems charming enough when she meets him in the airport ticket line. Flights have been canceled or rerouted, and tempers flare. But Rippner intervenes when an irate gasbag holds up the line by berating a frazzled clerk. He handles the bully with calm words—without threatening him, but making him back down. But there's something about Rippner that's not what it seems. Lisa's first response is to politely disengage when he offers to buy her a drink.
Murphy is best known for playing Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow in Batman Begins—the creepy little arch-villain who made you want to stomp him like a bug. He's just as creepy in Red Eye, but he can turn it on and off at will. His Rippner is a coldly manipulative sociopath who gives off a hinky vibe while seeming to say all the right things. In one scene, a little girl (Brittany Oaks) observes him doing something suspicious and tells the flight attendant. Although the attendant patiently brushes away her concerns with adult condescension, the little girl can feel something that others aren't able to see, or at least acknowledge.
Lisa is a bit slower on the uptake. Rippner begins by making polite conversation, but something about it feels passively aggressive. If she were to have this conversation in a café , she would politely excuse herself, but this flight is booked solid; she can't just move to an empty seat. Lisa's ability to read people in a business situation hinges on her ability to keep them at a distance, and by holding the power to assuage their bruised egos. She can comp them or upgrade their rooms. She holds the cards.
But sitting next to Rippner, she has no cards to hold. As the conversation continues, Lisa becomes truly creeped out. That's when Rippner gives her a Faustian bargain, or what the Godfather might have called "an offer she can't refuse." Rippner plans to kill a U.S. government official, and Lisa—because of her line of work—holds the key to his success … or failure. If she refuses to cooperate, an assassin is waiting to kill her father (Brian Cox). Lisa sees no way out. Faced with a violation of her professional and moral ethics, she succumbs and becomes a pawn in a terrorist plot.
The whole point of Red Eye is to give Rippner a chance to behave abominably so that the audience can hope for his demise. Rippner, holding nothing back, is evil to the core. He's a killer and a liar. He enjoys intimidating poor Lisa. The audience knows what is coming and they can't wait. They begin talking back to the screen to hide their nervousness. They hope Lisa will give Rippner his due, and they fully expect to be scared.
On the plus side, Red Eye is about a likeable woman who can take care of herself. Unlike so many "thrillers," this movie doesn't revel in degrading violence against women. Lisa doesn't run around in her underwear screaming. Yes, like all women in peril, Lisa must eventually fall down while running away, but she gets back up and continues fighting back. No whimpering and begging for her.
Unfortunately, Red Eye begins to unravel at the end. In the first two-thirds of the film, Murphy does a creditable job as the threatening, enigmatic Rippner. Toward the end he begins chewing up the scenery. As he staggers around, taking one blindside after another, he begins to resemble Wile E. Coyote. Lisa might as well go "beep-beep" as she runs to and fro setting up traps for him. Murphy is an actor with presence. A better script or better direction might have carried his Rippner on a more compelling trajectory. Instead, we watch Rippner's developed character un-develop.
Fans of the thriller genre will probably be scared and entertained, but seeing Red Eye is more like watching a good television show than a good movie.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- What would you have done if faced with Rippner's ultimatum on the plane?
- Is there any way that Rebecca might have been able to express her feelings to adults without being dismissed?
- How might a victim of violence summon the courage to fight back? Do you think that it would be harder or easier to fight back when other people were in danger instead of just yourself?
- How do we "know" when someone like Rippner is manipulating us? What can we do about it?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence, and language. Lisa is the victim of some convincing violence, although no weapons are used and the violence is not eroticized. Some of the language is coarse, but not obscene or profane. The PG-13 rating is appropriate.
Photos © Copyright Dreamworks SKG
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 08/25/05
Actor Cillian Murphy ran in terror from zombies in 28 Days Later. Then he became a terrorist himself, tormenting Gotham City in Batman Begins. In Wes Craven's new suspense film Red Eye, Murphy is a villain named Jackson Rippner who holds Lisa (Rachel McAdams), a hotel manager, hostage on an airplane, forcing her to help him arrange an assassination, and then chasing her around on the ground in a desperate attempt to draw viewers' attention away from gaping holes in the plot.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) agrees. "What starts off as a smart and suspenseful nail-biter hits story turbulence midflight before nose-diving into a stock chase film by the third act, which at the advance screening elicited more guffaws than gasps. You may want to wait for Red Eye to hit video stores before boarding."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) calls it "an 85-minute flyaway flick that feels more like a film school project than a nationally released movie from horror guru Wes Craven. Maybe the blame should rest on the shoulders of rookie screenwriter Carl Ellsworth, who's used to writing one-hour dramas for TV. … With its one-dimensional characters and quickly resolved conflict (not to mention vulgar language, violent confrontations and obsession with alcohol), this is one flight not worth staying awake for."
Jeffrey Huston (Crosswalk) says, "The film takes off but eventually the screenplay nosedives as Red Eye crashes and burns."
Red Eye earns some high praise from mainstream critics.from Film Forum, 09/01/05
Andrew Coffin (World) says it's "a stripped-down thriller that succeeds through economy, pace, and casting. … The problem with Red Eye, like most thrillers, is that it builds to a foregone conclusion that is both improbable and distasteful."
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